School NewsJul 1, 2020

— updated Aug 7, 2020

Our plan for reopening school

A letter from Head of School Julia Heaton

Dear Miss Hall’s Families,

I write to update you about our plans for the 2020-21 school year at Miss Hall’s School. First and foremost, I am happy to share that we are planning to open on schedule in the fall! We cannot wait to welcome our students back to campus responsibly, safely, and joyfully.

Being separated from each other during the COVID-19 pandemic has made us appreciate the extraordinary connectedness of this amazing community. The campus is not the same without the bold and creative students, faculty, and staff who give it life. We are eager to be together after so many months apart, to restore the inclusive, collaborative, global community that is the heart of MHS.

Throughout the summer, the MHS Board of Trustees, Leadership Team, and more than 100 faculty and staff are preparing for a successful reopening in the fall. The School’s Incident Response Team, a cross-disciplinary group of leaders, has been working in special task forces focused on community wellbeing, space use, academic technology, time and schedule, and communication. Over the course of many weeks, these groups have given a great deal of thought to all aspects of school programs and operations, guided by the Miss Hall’s mission, core values, and strategic priorities.

This letter provides an overview of our current thinking related to reopening, with the important caveat that these plans will continue to evolve throughout the summer, in response to changing circumstances and new information. This is the first of many communications we will send before school starts, and we will also offer several update sessions via Zoom.

What we know

While the spread of coronavirus continues in the United States and around the world, Massachusetts appears to have turned an important corner, with the number of new cases on the decline. The state is beginning a slow, phased reopening that has been successful thus far. Given what we’ve learned about virus transmission, however, we believe we are not out of the woods yet, and we will remain vigilant in our efforts to reduce transmission within the MHS community.

Our primary focus at all times is the wellness and safety of our students, faculty, and staff. We continue to monitor local, state, and federal guidelines as they apply to schools, residential communities, and workplaces. In particular, we are informed by the guidelines from the Massachusetts Department of Education and Higher Education Working Group.

We expect to meet these guidelines, and, in cases where our community’s well-being requires, we will take additional precautions. We recognize that due to travel restrictions or concerns about health and safety, there may be students and adults who are not able to join us on campus for the full duration of the academic year. We will accommodate special circumstances until everyone can safely return to campus. We are committed to deep, equitable learning for all, regardless of location.

If ever there was a time to embrace our mission of contributing to the common good, that time is now.

Head of School

Our shared commitments

In order to reopen responsibly, we will be asking everyone to abide by a social contract, of sorts. When we return, students and adults will notice changes to our day-to-day behaviors and protocols that allow us to live and learn together on campus while preserving the health and safety of all. This will take some adjusting and collective effort from all of us. If ever there was a time to embrace our mission of contributing to the common good, that time is now. 

Here is what students and families can expect from Miss Hall’s in the fall:

  • Students and adults will return to campus the week of August 24th, in staggered intervals. This will allow us to limit the number of people arriving on campus at one time and maintain appropriate physical distance during move-in. We are revising our orientation calendar and will provide specific return dates for new and returning students in a few weeks’ time.
  • Students and adults will need to be tested in order to return to campus. Everyone should secure a test for COVID-19 just prior to their return to campus. Info on what testing is required and when will be provided by the Director of Health Services Christie Puz.
  • Those traveling to campus from out of state or outside of the U.S. may be required to self-quarantine for 14 days prior to rejoining the community. As of this writing, the State of Massachusetts requires this. We will provide details later this summer about on-campus spaces designated for quarantine and isolation.
  • We will adhere to new health and safety protocols on campus. We expect to meet or exceed all local, state, and national health guidelines, which include requirements for physical distancing, hand hygiene, regular health/temperature checks, and mandatory mask-wearing by all students and adults in shared spaces or group settings.
  • We will deliver our program in a hybrid model. Faculty are currently developing new courses from the ground-up to seamlessly bridge in-person and distance learning. All courses will reflect our commitment to high standards of learning, ensure equity and inclusion for all MHS students, and offer personalized learning that allows students choice and challenge. All curriculum design will be rooted in a set of guiding principles developed by the faculty and leadership specifically for MHS. Though many aspects of the program will look different, what will not change is our commitment to a transformational, mission-aligned, and student-centered curriculum.
  • We will minimize travel off campus during the 2020–21 year. The calendar will be modified to reduce the number of short breaks and allow all boarding students the option to stay in the dorms during Spring Vacation, upon request. All students will leave campus for November Break and will have the option to remain off campus until early January. We are considering a shift to fully remote learning during this period, and will make a decision about calendar and vacation dates no later than August 15.
  • There will be changes to spaces and traffic flow on campus in order to adhere to physical distancing guidelines. These will include reconfigurations to classrooms, changes in locations of meetings, and reimagining the ways we gather as a community. Hallways and stairwells will be mapped for one-way traffic. We are fortunate to have an 80-acre campus and more than 100,000 square feet of welcoming, comfortable teaching and learning space which allow us the flexibility to adapt as requirements change.
  • Our Culinary team is working on a plan for an optimized Dining Room to limit capacity, serve meals differently, and to stagger meal times for ease of physical distancing.
  • We are planning for single and double-occupancy rooms in the dorms, with ongoing testing to ensure health. Assignments will be made by the Housing Committee, and we will do our best to accommodate everyone’s wishes. More information will be forthcoming. 
  • Our physical spaces have been repaired and deeply cleaned. Our Housekeeping team has implemented new practices for disinfection of public and residential spaces and is prepared for more frequent cleaning of spaces throughout the academic day. We have installed hand sanitizing stations at many locations across campus, and we will expect all community members to do their part to maintain cleanliness of our campus.
  • We will create new daily and weekly schedules, to provide more flexibility, to accommodate students who may be in different time zones, and to extend transition times to allow safe movement about the campus. Students will receive more information about the weekly schedule and individual class schedules in August.
  • Extracurricular activities, athletics, clubs, ensembles, and student leadership will continue, albeit in some cases in modified formats. Specifically regarding athletics, we are in communication with other schools in the New England Preparatory School Athletic Council (NEPSAC), to make decisions about interscholastic competitive sports for the 2020-21 school year. While it is unlikely that we will be able to run a regular fall athletic season, we are committed to providing varied options for physical activity and fitness that will foster mental and physical health for our students all year long.
  • We have developed a refund policy for this year only. In the event of unexpected campus closure due to health concerns or state/federal requirements, partial refunds will be offered to all families at amounts directly proportionate to their net paid tuition levels. If you have questions about our refund policy, Director of Admissions & Enrollment Management David Hopkins will be happy to answer them.

What we don’t know

I am sure that you have many questions about the year ahead. I know there are many more answers you need. Some of these we cannot know, as so much of the world and this pandemic continues to change.

My promise to you is that we will communicate with you regularly and transparently in the coming weeks and throughout the fall. We will answer whatever questions we can, and we will work with each student and each family to ensure a safe, healthy, and meaningful school year.

Our collective resilience

Much about how we live our daily lives has changed during the course of the past several months. This pandemic has caused seismic shifts at home, at school, at work, and in all facets of our lives.

Miss Hall’s, however, has always been an authentic and resilient school, one that has persisted through two World Wars, a Great Depression and multiple economic recessions, the sudden death of its founder, changing societal norms about boarding and independent schools, and a host of other challenges.

We persist because of the strength of our mission, because of our firm belief that what we do matters — in the lives of our students, their families, and for the greater good of the world beyond our campus.

Now, more than ever, the world needs the contributions of bright, ambitious, and resilient young people; young people who know the power of their own voices and how to use them; who employ vision, gumption and interpersonal efficacy to effect much needed change in the world; and who understand the importance of living lives of purpose and contributing boldly and creatively to the common good.

Best,

Julia Heaton
Head of School