Deerfield Academy plans ‘3-test’ approach for return to campus

  • Deerfield Academy administration building. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 8/11/2020 5:40:42 PM

DEERFIELD – School administrators at Deerfield Academy have established a “three-test” approach to bringing students back to campus this fall.

“The goal of the three-test approach is to establish a sound baseline for community health, and then we’re going to continue to test weekly thereafter,” said Head of School John Austin, noting that staff coming on and off campus will be tested more frequently. “We’ve always believed that testing is essential to a residential school like Deerfield opening up.”

COVID-19 test kits will be mailed by Vault Health to all students — including day students — living domestically prior to the students’ arrival. International students will be expected to obtain their own initial test.

Before arriving to campus, in addition to receiving a negative test result, students will be expected to quarantine for 14 days, according to Jessica Day, director of communications at Deerfield Academy.

Day explained that the self-quarantine must follow the most recent state-imposed restrictions. That is, students coming from states deemed “high risk” should have both a negative test result and must have quarantined in a “low risk” state before arriving to Massachusetts.

“If there is a student coming from Texas, for example, they are going to need to quarantine in a low-risk state for 14 days prior to coming here to campus,” she said. “They’re also going to need to show up with a negative COVID test in hand.”

Drop off to campus will also look different this year, she said. Families of boarding students — which accounts for the majority of the student body — have been assigned a 15-minute time slot to drop off student at campus, where students will be assigned a single room.

“We’re asking them to travel light this year … Basically, it’s bring your two suitcases with your clothes,” she said. “They’ll go right to their dorm at their assigned time.”

All students will then be tested a second time. Until a negative test result comes back, the student will be required to remain quarantined in their room (food will be delivered), or at home if they are a day student living locally.

Once boarding students have a test result that allows them to leave their rooms, they will become part of their “dorm squad,” or the group of students in the hall where they live.

A third and final test will be required of all students before they can attend class.

“We’re lucky, knock on wood, Franklin County … has had a low rate of COVID, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure it stays that way,” Day said.

Classrooms, for example, have been reorganized to conform to the 6-foot social distancing guidelines, and students, staff, and faculty will be required to wear masks in classrooms and walkways. Additionally, the school intends to use outdoor space for class instruction, when possible.

Signs will be posted throughout campus, and staff and students will be trained and reminded of proper cleaning and hygiene to help prevent the spread of the virus.

The school is continuing to work on protocols for a situation in which a positive test result is identified.

“We care a great deal about our staff and the local communities,” she said.

Austin and Day said the administration has worked closely with Deerfield, the Board of Health and the town nurse.

“We’ve had meetings with them,” Day said. “The lines of communication have been very open with them.”

Austin, who said planning for the reopening began as early April, said returning in-person has always been the goal.

“For residential boarding schools, like Deerfield, that in-person experience on campus, the in-person experience of the community for face-to-face learning is part of our DNA,” he said. “It’s really important to our families and our students.”

Austin said the school relied on a “science-first approach” and the advice of professionals in its consideration of reopening plans for the fall.

“It’ll be a different experience, but our parents overwhelmingly want our children to be back on campus,” he said. “We’ve studied very, very carefully. We really tried to be thoughtful about it, and thorough.”

For families who don’t wish to send their students to campus, however, a remote option is available. The remote learning option involves special cameras in the classrooms.

Day also noted that if the pandemic goes in a direction that requires it, a back-up plan for remote is ready for the academy to transition into if the time comes.

“At the end of the day,” Day said. “It’s only going to work if everybody is hands in, and says, yes we all agree to this.”

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