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Planning, Purpose, and Process

While we know more now about COVID-19 than we did when we issued our first handbook (May 26) and second handbook (July 9), the uncertainties associated with the pandemic remain considerable, and epidemiological data across the United States is currently trending in the wrong direction with bracing speed.

With that caveat in mind, our planning for the spring semester is guided by a clear set of purposes:

  • to continue to provide first-rate remote instruction, and
  • to be ready to return to a modified form of campus instruction that is effective, joyful, and reasonably safe, once it is permissible to do so. 

Even once the state and county permit our return to campus instruction this semester, we recognize that some families may not feel comfortable assuming the risks that will exist until there is a broadly distributed vaccine, and others may not be able to get their children to campus, owing to temporary travel complications and visa restrictions. Whether our students are able to return to campus instruction this spring, start the semester at home, or spend the remainder of the academic year in remote instruction, we are here to help and will support them—and their families—along this journey.

Planning in a dynamic environment
In Planning for Our Return (July 9), we described the extensive modifications and contingency plans that at that time we foresaw being required to safely welcome all students and employees back to our campuses in September for full academic days, five days a week. These adjustments responded to requirements for physical distancing and reduced maximum occupant load in buildings, and the need for plans to protect students’ and employees’ health and safety on both campuses (including in our dormitories).

Now, epidemiological models for the national and regional course of the virus over the coming months are even more concerning—and many experts anticipate that travel and small gatherings during the Thanksgiving and winter holidays will accelerate the spread of the virus. 

Our decision-making as we approach the new semester will continue to be guided by our eagerness to once again be together, but still be tempered by our equal commitment to safety and social responsibility. We must all accept the fact that the virus remains very much in charge, especially in the absence of a multi-layered national strategy and broadly distributed vaccine, and that our long-awaited return to safe campus instruction may therefore be delayed even further. 

Our expectation is that as the risks lower, the modifications we describe here—consistent with those that we set forth in our July 9 handbook—will eventually be deemed sufficient by relevant controlling authorities to protect community and individual health. We are confident that these plans will allow all students to thrive academically, sustain our sense of community, and uphold the distinctive elements of a Stevenson education. 

Remarks on process
Since September we have worked around the clock to: 

  • study the prevailing standard of care among schools, colleges, and universities, taking account of the most effective aspects of their plans as we design and test our own solutions; 
  • consult with local and national experts in public health, infectious disease epidemiology, and other relevant areas; 
  • monitor epidemiological trends in California and Monterey County, as well as the other regions from which our students hail;
  • ready our campuses, especially in terms of technology and infrastructure; 
  • identify and acquire the materials required to meet an array of possible challenges; 
  • design relevant supplementary training for employees, students, and their families; and 
  • develop new policies and practices to protect health while preserving our School’s mission; and
  • raise funds to support reopening expenses and replace the operating income lost by tuition discounts.

This unprecedented job has demanded creativity, flexibility, and teamwork; an unrelenting focus on health and safety; and a thoroughly learner-centered sensibility insofar as students’ educational experience is concerned. That Stevenson has excelled in this regard is a direct result of the fact that this approach to school-keeping was firmly established well before the pandemic.

Our plans have been developed in consultation with infectious disease doctors attached to our excellent regional hospitals in Monterey and Salinas, as well as experts affiliated with the Yale School of Public Health, Yale Law School, Yale School of the Environment, Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Princeton University’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Boston Consulting Group. 

Additionally, members of our team have: 

  • participated in countless hours of webinars sponsored by national, regional, and state school associations and adjacent professional organizations; 
  • reviewed and discussed relevant scientific research and journalism; 
  • studied guidance from the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and Monterey County Health Department (MCHD),
  • collected plans developed by schools, colleges, universities, and corporations across the world, and
  • collaborated with teachers to develop a robust curriculum for remote instruction.

Our process has been, and will continue to be, collaborative. More than thirty people have been working on this challenge since late May 2020, and we continually subject our efforts to careful review by outside experts.