COVID-19 Communications Archive
Last Updated August 5, 2020, 9:15 p.m.
This page was developed to provide updates and information regarding the spread of the coronavirus and the outbreak of COVID-19 during the spring of 2020.
Letters to the Commonwealth Community
- Plans for Reopening Commonwealth
- Preparing for Academic Year 2020–2021
- A Letter From the Headmaster - May 20
- A Letter from the Headmaster - April 22
- A Letter from the Headmaster - April 17
- Virtual Commonwealth - April 9
- Virtual Commonwealth - March 26
- A Letter from the Headmaster Regarding Coronavirus - March 16
- A Letter From the Headmaster Regarding Coronavirus - March 11
- A Letter From the Headmaster Regarding Coronavirus - March 5
I write to share our current plans for reopening Commonwealth in September. A planning group working together with consultants from Fusion Cell (who have deep experience in managing infectious risk at military installations) have devised a set of requirements for a return to school that will, we believe, greatly diminish the risk of infection.
Please read through the reopening plan and submit any questions you may have to this form. We also hope you will attend a virtual town hall meeting on Monday, August 10, at 7:00 p.m. (We will send an invitation with a Zoom link later this week.) At that meeting we will answer questions, clarify the planning that remains for August, and, we hope, give everyone a clear understanding of our path and options as we move toward September.
Let me start by saying that our plan assumes that infection rate and conditions in the Boston area hold steady or improve. Should that change, even between now and September, we will be ready to shift to a fully online model as we did in the spring.
Assuming trends hold steady, the critical measures that will permit us to conduct in-person learning are masking and the splitting of the student body into two teams to allow for social distancing in the school building: there will be no more than sixty-five students (and around twenty adults) in the building on any given day, and numbers in each classroom will allow for six-foot distancing. The two groups will alternately participate in person or from home. (The exact rotation will soon be determined.) We are equipping our classrooms to conduct concurrent learning, which allows those in the room to interact with fellow students (and, in some cases, teachers) who are at home. Our reopening plan spells out other measures that will be in place—about movement, handwashing and cleaning, air filtering, and more—that will further diminish risk.
It's important that all understand that, even as we conduct this concurrent plan, students, teachers, or staff members may work from home full time, especially in cases where underlying conditions or other circumstances make in-person participation too risky. We are confident from preliminary surveys and responses that we will have a sufficient number of students, teachers, and staff in the building come September to make the in-person learning meaningful and to provide effective supervision for the students.
Since early July we have been running our summer Dive In program each morning with ten to twelve students in the building. We have learned a lot about managing movement and encouraging safe practices. That experience gives me confidence about our ability, conditions permitting, to be ready for Commonwealth's modified reopening next month.
We look forward to answering your questions at next week's town meeting.
With the 2019–2020 academic year behind us, we turn our attention to preparing for next year. Below you will find important updates regarding our current plans for reopening the building.
Also note that year-end comments and grades were mailed on Friday (June 19). Please notify the front office if you do not receive them by the end of this week.
Returning to School
We have begun the planning process for reopening in the fall, cognizant that the shifting landscape will require flexibility and care. Our aim is to operate in person as much as considerations for the safety of our students, their families, and faculty and staff permit. We expect at the very least that we will need to be running many classes in a hybrid format, with some students and teachers together in a classroom and some participating remotely. We will not only be looking at carrying on with our academic program but with all aspects of our programming (extracurricular, athletic, etc.).
We have an internal working group considering the best structure for us, and we have engaged with a consulting company, Fusion Cell, which has extensive experience managing infectious disease control in high-risk environments, including U.S. military bases around the world. We expect to have their assessment and a menu of options in early July, and in the weeks following, relying on their work and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE) guidelines that will be coming out in the next month, to develop plans and protocols for operating safely.
As our options come more clearly into view, we will reach out to you for input and to work with families to develop plans that work for them. We also will be looking into the question of transportation to and from school. We expect to have plans that we'll be able to communicate in early August, with the caveat that, as conditions change, we will continue to adapt.
Remote Learning Feedback
We are eager to hear your feedback on Virtual Commonwealth and our approach to remote learning, both positive assessments of what worked well and suggestions for improvement. You are welcome to share your feedback here. The survey will be open until July 1.
Our faculty and staff will use your responses to help us plan the 2020–2021 academic year. We will not share survey responses with the broader Commonwealth community (students, families, etc.), but we will check back in again later in the summer when we have more information to share.
You will find our current 2020–2021 Academic Calendar here. Please note that all events are subject to change. You can direct questions to the front office in the interim.
Students should have received their summer reading lists from Ms. Johnson. You can learn more about summer reading here as well.
Information regarding course requests, back-to-school forms, ordering textbooks, and additional academic considerations will be shared in the coming weeks. Finalized student schedules will be sent at the end of August. Please email Acting Director of Studies Rob Sherry if you have questions about courses in the interim.
Until then, I hope your summer is off to a healthy and restful start.
Acting Assistant Head of School
Today I write to update you on various financial considerations pertaining to the pandemic, including refunds for the spring Hancock weekend and tentative plans for the fall semester.
Current Financial Situation
Tuition, income from our endowment, and the Commonwealth Fund together support the people, programs, and infrastructure that constitute a Commonwealth education. We consider ourselves incredibly fortunate to be in a position to weather this crisis thanks to the steadfast support of our families, alumni/ae, and greater community. Our trustees' careful stewardship of our resources has also afforded us relative stability in a volatile time.
Nevertheless, we are acutely aware of the challenges that the economic shutdown has created for our entire community. We have committed to making sure all faculty and staff, including those employed by outside companies (food service and maintenance), suffer no loss of income through the remainder of the school year.
We want to remind you, too, that Commonwealth is here to help your family during this difficult period however we can. If your family is experiencing financial hardship, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or your child's faculty advisor.
Planning for the Future
No school will be unaffected by this event over the long term, and though our financial underpinnings are sound, Commonwealth faces challenges as a result of the pandemic.
We have been working with our trustees to develop plans that will ensure fiscal sustainability while protecting the programs and people that distinguish the school.
We are also seeing an increase in financial aid applications and level of need. We remain resolved to serving a full range of promising, highly motivated students and to maintaining programs, like Dive In, that attract students from underserved backgrounds. Our commitment to increasing access and opportunity is unchanged.
We will be refunding the portion of the annual Hancock fee that would have gone toward our May weekend in Maine ($230). You may apply the amount as a credit toward next year's tuition and fees, or we can send you a check (issued during the first half of June). Or, if you feel so inclined, you may allocate your refund toward a tax-deductible donation to The Commonwealth Fund.
Please email Director of Finance Sue Tibert by May 31 with your preferred method of receiving the refund (or intent to donate).
If the fall Hancock weekend is canceled, we will again offer refunds.
Though it will likely be months before we know what, exactly, returning to school will look like, we are proceeding on the assumption that we will be offering the full range of opportunities and experiences that constitute a Commonwealth education, adjusted as they well might be for whatever environment we find ourselves in this fall and in accordance with guidance provided by Governor Baker's administration.
We anticipate the need for continued flexibility, both in the physical use of our space and in the allocation of our resources. We are prepared to adapt as the realities grow clearer in the coming months, keeping the health and safety of our students and their families as a top priority. We aim to develop and communicate a plan for September by the beginning of August.
The full economic ramifications of the pandemic, both globally and here at home, may not become clear for months or even years. But I am confident in our ability to overcome whatever challenges we may face, together.
Thank you again, and, as always, I welcome any questions and comments.
Dear Commonwealth community:
As you likely heard, yesterday Governor Baker ordered all Massachusetts schools to remain closed through the end of the school year.
In accordance with the Governor's directive, our building will be closed for the remainder of the year, and we will complete the semester in Virtual Commonwealth.
While this is disappointing for everyone, we know it is especially so for our seniors and their families. Their forbearance and resilience throughout this ordeal bespeaks the talents and character of the Class of 2020—and we look forward to celebrating the culmination of their Commonwealth careers and gathering as a community in creative ways.
Despite some blustery days, spring has brought its familiar and welcome signs of renewal, the budding trees and blossoms we look forward to every year—reminders that life goes on.
We too carry on with our work, despite our disrupted rhythms, and I write to share several updates.
A reminder that the school will be closed this Monday, April 20, for Patriots Day. (Thursday, April 23, will be a Monday schedule.) Homework-free weekend (April 18–20) will go on as planned.
No decisions have been made as of yet regarding graduation, the post-Hancock holidays, or the Jazz Concert. We will make announcements soon regarding the Parent Reception and Art Show, scheduled for May 5.
Remote Learning Student Survey
Last Friday, we surveyed all students about their remote classes and virtual learning experience so far, with a particular focus on pacing, workload, and screen time. Responses were largely positive, though many students continue to find the adjustment challenging, which is to be expected.
With 70 students reporting, here are some notable results:
- 97% meet with their advisor every week.
- 58% join four or more meetings, outside classes, every week. These include announcements and assembly, but also clubs, tutoring, and just gathering with friends.
- 72% report spending seven or more hours in front of a computer or device screen (not counting television) each day. Classes constitute a majority of those hours.
- Personal screen time usage has also increased, with 65% of students spending "more" or "substantially more" time on screens than they typically would each day. 29% say personal screen time has stayed the same, and 6% report a decrease.
- 40% exercise at least once a day; 33% exercise several times per week. Only 4% are not exercising at all.
- A plurality (40%) take 3–4 breaks each day; 30% take 4+ breaks each day. Only 4% take no breaks at all.
While these outcomes align with our expectations, they underscore the need to prioritize purposeful breaks and reduce screen time whenever possible. While most classes will still meet for three synchronous and one asynchronous session per week, teachers can adjust as needed, and many are. We will remain flexible as we, like most organizations, work to figure out the optimal path forward.
Without the physical reminders that accompany a "normal" school day—sitting down in a classroom vs. joining friends between classes—it is critical that students create new habits that help them settle into "class mode" and "break mode."
But most importantly, we remind students to demonstrate the same patience and compassion with themselves as they do with others, and to avail themselves of the resources at their disposal: namely, their teachers, advisors, and Drs. Eagle and Lasker, who can provide personalized guidance and support.
At the end of the day, all we ask is that students give the effort that circumstances permit.
The transition to our virtual school has been remarkably smooth, thanks to the skill with which teachers have reimagined their classes for the virtual space while providing strong, ongoing student support. We have also started discussions about the 2020–2021 school year, aware that we need to be prepared to meet students where they are next year, and that ongoing management of the spread of coronavirus may require intermittent periods of sheltering and online learning.
It bears repeating: this is not fully developed online education (which takes months if not years of tailored curriculum design). This is education in a time of crisis. In keeping with our peers, we expect most classes will cover two-thirds to three-quarters of the material originally planned. Our teachers, staff, and students have risen to the various challenges with skill and aplomb.
The faculty has decided to continue to grade work through the end of the year and to calculate year grades for all graded courses. (Only year-end grades appear on transcripts for grades 9–11.) We feel that this will best serve our students when, as seniors, they file college applications. Recognizing, however, the challenges students face with the transition to online learning, and the reduction in material covered, teachers will adjust the weight of the fourth quarter work accordingly.
Please see our Virtual Commonwealth FAQs for more details.
You may have heard that the College Board will, in light of the current crisis, offer shortened (forty-five-minute-long) Advanced Placement Exams in May, which students will be able to take at home. Teachers agree that the value of the exams—as a measure of the year's work, as a credential for college applications, and as a tool for earning credit or placement at college—is compromised, and many colleges are signaling that they will not expect to see AP scores from current juniors or seniors as measures of the work they have done in accelerated courses.
We will continue to designate courses on transcripts as AP or APE (AP Equivalent). The faculty has decided to let students decide whether to proceed with exams for which they have enrolled. Advisors, teachers, and the Director of College Counseling will be happy to help students and families think through the advisability of taking or canceling the exams.
Please see our Virtual Commonwealth FAQs for more details.
We'd like to thank you, once again, for your support over the past month—even as you contend with these extraordinary circumstances in your own homes. Stay safe.
We now have a week of Virtual Commonwealth behind us. Thanks to the tireless efforts of our faculty and staff, as well as the flexibility and energy of our students, I'm happy to report that classes seem to be going fairly smoothly and the response from students and staff has been for the most part positive. Because we have stuck with the framework of our "normal" schedule, the days have retained a familiar rhythm, including recess and announcements at 10:00 each morning and virtual assemblies today and last Thursday.
We continue, however, to adapt and adjust. It's important to reiterate a point I made in my earlier communications: We are providing an emergency substitute for face-to-face teaching. Like all educators facing this extraordinary adjustment, our teachers have not had the time to roll out a fully-developed online program. Rather, we continue to assess and develop our approaches in various subjects. Our expectation is that courses will be able to cover, on average, about two-thirds of what they would have managed in the fourth quarter of a normal year. We are prioritizing major subjects. We are also discussing how we will assess and evaluate students' work in a way that best serves their learning and supports the building of a substantive record.
Faculty and advisors are checking in with students regularly, and our Dean of Students Josh Eagle and school counselor Eben Lasker have been reaching out to them, as well. We continue to share feedback among ourselves and are surveying students to see if we can gather additional insights about workload, screen time, wellbeing, and other matters.
To address a few more pointed questions we have received:
- Student health and wellness: Regarding students' physical wellness, our efforts include developing a roster of community fitness activities; continuing to offer daily morning meditation; sharing guidance for taking breaks, exercising, and stretching; and taking advantage of opportunities to move in class. Advisors and Drs. Eagle and Lasker remain the points of contact to monitor and support students' emotional wellbeing.
- Labs and hands-on projects: Science classes have been variously affected by the move to online. For example, in Biology 1 students are now covering evolution and population biology, so the unit's use of online simulators and paper labs is going forward as planned. History teachers have variously modified the spring research paper in recognition of the more limited resources students will have access to without the use of libraries. Most art classes are meeting, adjusting their curricula as needed. The sculpture students, for example, are making works with found objects.
- Providing students with opportunities to connect: There has been no shortage of suggestions from students and teachers, and a new resource is in the works, gathering virtual events and activities. Student clubs have been meeting at lunch much as they normally would as well. Faculty have also opened their classrooms as spaces where students can collaborate, find peer support, or simply spend time together.
Important Dates and Cancelations
- Spring Concert (April 17): Canceled
- Patriots Day (April 20): School closed. (Thursday, April 23, will be a Monday schedule.)
- Homework-free weekend (April 18-20): As planned
- Parent Reception and Art Show (May 5): Will not occur live. We are arranging virtual options.
- Hancock (May 15-17): Canceled. Though this is a significant loss, we are exploring ways of connecting virtually.
- Post-Hancock days (May 18-19): TBD
- Peru Trip: Canceled
- College Forum with School Representatives (May 27): To be held in Virtual Commonwealth, tentatively 6:00-8:00 p.m., details forthcoming
We are officially closed through May 4, but there is a strong likelihood that we will remain closed beyond that. We have not made final decisions about the jazz concert or graduation, and students and faculty advisors are exploring alternate plans for Diversity Day, originally scheduled for April 17.
Virtual Parents Meeting
We plan to hold another virtual parents meeting on Tuesday, April 21. Much like our first virtual parents meeting, this will be an opportunity to ask questions, gather feedback, and discuss our future plans (to the extent we can make them) as a community.
Please note: our Parent Committee will be circulating a survey soon as well. Those results will inform our open forum discussion, so we encourage you to complete the survey once you receive it.
As always, I invite your questions and comments. Stay safe. Be well.
Dear students and families:
As spring break draws to a close, we prepare to enter a new world of remote learning, work, and virtual connection.
We will now, in compliance with Governor Baker's order, be closed until May 4. Accordingly, all events previously scheduled for this period, including the Spring Concert and Prom, have been canceled. We know how disappointing this is for our students, particularly our seniors; we will work with you to find ways to fill the void left by these cancelations, and to find appropriate ways to mark the various passages ahead.
But we will carry on. Our online school, Virtual Commonwealth, will officially "open" in just a few days. Two dates of note:
- On Tuesday, March 31, 2:30 p.m. (subject to change), we will be holding an all-school assembly in the Cafegymnatorium at virtual.commschool.org.
- On Wednesday, April 1, classes will begin as they normally would, following our existing schedule.
- For the first few days, at least, we will run regular announcements at 10:00 a.m. in the Cafegymnatorium. If that proves workable, it will provide an important daily check in.
In the coming weeks, our goal is to offer as strong a program as we can under the constraints, while providing a sense of continuity, community, and normalcy for the Commonwealth community—students and staff alike. Departments have been conferring throughout the break, adjusting their lesson plans to the remote learning environment. We anticipate Virtual Commonwealth will continue to evolve in the days and even weeks after we launch, but we remain confident in the ability of our teachers and students to adapt with patience and good humor.
Each teacher will have their own "classroom" within Virtual Commonwealth, where they will be host of the embedded Zoom meeting and can hold classes, advisor meetings, etc. We even have our Cafegymnatorium. Students can also gather in empty classrooms to study, meet with tutors, work on shared projects, or coordinate their extracurricular activities.
To supplement the tools and resources provided at virtual.commschool.org, we created an online hub for all things Virtual Commonwealth, including technical guides and tips for succeeding in online classes. In particular, we encourage you to review our Virtual Commonwealth FAQ.
A final note of particular import: Classes may be recorded to accommodate student absences and better facilitate asynchronous learning. If you would like to opt-out of recording, please reach out to me directly.
The coming weeks will require us all, students and teachers, to step up. On Tuesday I'll speak briefly about our new responsibility, and plans for the days ahead. Thank you for helping us carry on in the face of uncertainty, ensuring the vibrancy of our community and the continuing wellness and education of your children, our students.
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me with questions, suggestions, or concerns.
And please continue to do all you can to stay safe and healthy.
Dear parents and students,
I write to tell you that Commonwealth will be closed until at least April 13. We will run classes remotely after vacation, most likely beginning on March 31 or April 1. We will in the days between now and then communicate more about schedule, platform, and practices. Included will be instructions on how to participate in online classes. It is quite possible–even likely—that closure and remote learning will continue beyond the 13th, but we will monitor the situation and make decisions on an ongoing basis, in accordance with state and local regulations and recommendations.
In the meantime, anyone who does not have
- a computer with a working camera and microphone, and
- access from home to high-speed internet capable of handling videoconferencing
should reach out to us. From the survey we ran last week it appears that most everyone is equipped. If you have questions or concerns about equipment and internet access, please reach out to our Dean of Students, Josh Eagle (email@example.com).
As to containing the spread of the coronavirus, as we wrote yesterday, we will send notifications, in accord with the recommendations of the Boston Public Health Commission, when we receive news that would require members of our community to take additional measures. If, for example, we learn of a diagnosis of a member of our community that would trigger a recommendation of self-quarantine for others, we will reach out. For that reason, we ask that families keep us apprised of instances when a member of your household becomes symptomatic, is presumed by a doctor to be infected, or tests positive. We will preserve confidentiality in accordance with HIPAA guidelines and distribute only the information necessary to keep others safe.
Please stay safe, and stay tuned.
As we approach the spring break, I write to update you on Commonwealth’s response to the spread of coronavirus and the outbreak of COVID-19. The pattern of absences at school has been normal, with 2-3% of students and staff out daily, mostly with colds, in the last week. There have been no instances reported to us, to date, of direct or indirect contact with coronavirus.
We continue to monitor closely for any reports of possible transmission within our community—there have been none to date that have been substantiated—and we are grateful to all who have reached out to the school to inform us of plans for travel. Please let us know of travel plans outside the U.S., if you have not done so already. As the incidences of possible infection rise within Massachusetts and the greater Boston area, we ask that families be attentive to and notify us of any known contact with possible carriers. As always, we will make every effort to respond prudently so as to minimize risk to students, faculty and staff, and the community.
With the seniors away this week and the March break for all upon us, the chances for transmission within the community are diminished. We ask that students and families continue to observe CDC guidelines throughout the break, washing hands frequently and thoroughly, using hand sanitizer, coughing into sleeves, avoiding touching one’s face (not easy), and minimizing physical contact with others. At school we continue to clean and disinfect possible paths of transmission regularly.
Though we would prefer to avoid a shutdown after break, we are continuing to prepare for the possibility. We have created a schedule for conducting classes online and are asking teachers to make sure they are familiar with the various tools—most notably Google Hangouts and Google Classroom/Google Drive—that we will rely on should we close for an extended period. We are also putting together materials for students outlining what remote learning would entail. If your child does not have a desktop or laptop computer and the high-speed internet necessary to participate in the Google meeting, please reach out to us. (Any laptop students purchased through our Technology Grant program will work.)
Please note that if it becomes imperative that we close the school after the break, we will notify you directly. We will make our own decision, in accord with Massachusetts or federal guidelines.
As I wrote last week, we will remain vigilant.
As always, please do not hesitate to reach out with any concerns or questions.
At Commonwealth we are deeply committed to the health and safety of all members of our community. For that reason I write now to update you on our plans to cope with the spread of the coronavirus and the outbreak of COVID-19.
In February we canceled a planned trip for our Mandarin students to China, and this week, in the wake of Governor Baker’s exhortation to schools and colleges to cancel organized travel abroad, we are calling off our Spanish exchange for this year. Though this is deeply disappointing for the participants and chaperones, we have to be cognizant of the risks of becoming carriers of the virus not only to Commonwealth, but to the larger community.
We also want to call attention to recommendations by the CDC about travel, and we request that any students or family members heading abroad in the coming weeks let us know, by calling or emailing Stephanie Poynter in our front office, of your plans and schedule for any international travel. We also ask that you and your family members comply fully with recommendations for quarantine or limited interactions with others following the return from countries currently under Level 3 or Level 2 travel alerts or from areas in the U.S. with higher rates of infection. It will be helpful for us to have a sense of where members of our community have been, and it is important that we have some assurance that all members of our community are acting prudently, in accord with the recommendations.
At Commonwealth we have undertaken more frequent cleaning and disinfecting of doorknobs, railings, tables and desks, and other surfaces that may serve as vectors for transmission. We have also begun discussing preparations for coping with an extended shutdown, including conducting some classes online, should it become necessary to close the school for more than a day or two. Eleven years ago we undertook similar planning when we faced the threat of the H1N1 influenza virus. In that case the outbreak was controlled, and our operations faced no disruption. We hope that the timing of our March break and the turn of the season may prove helpful in checking the spread of this virus, but we must remain vigilant.
Ms. Dale’s letter last week, in which she emphasized the importance of regular hand-washing, of shielding coughs and sneezes, and of staying home when ill, spelled out the most important measures we can take to contain the spread of any illnesses through the school community.
Please do not hesitate to get in touch with any further questions or concerns.