On September 9, 2019, the Ross School enrolled 16 new students for that upcoming school year. By September 4 this year, just shy of two weeks before the start of classes on September 17, the K–12 day and boarding school registered 101 new students. The total number of children in nursery through sixth grade alone has more than doubled, from 64 to 141 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many of the students, Ross School’s Head of Advancement and Operations Andi O’Hearn said, are from New York City and elsewhere.
“That makes me very sad. I’m glad for Ross — I think we’re a great option for them and they’ll love the experience — but I do feel sad that they had to leave their homes and the schools that they love,” Ms. O’Hearn said. “They moved in the hopes that their children will be able to be in school more and be safer, but I think everyone is grieving a bit for the things that they’ve lost. Even if you didn’t have to move, we’ve all had major changes in our lives.”
Bill O’Hearn, head of the Ross School, said in a letter to parents that there is currently a waiting list for second sections in nursery, pre-K, kindergarten, first grade and possibly third.
“Along with that, demand in the middle school grades is also very high,” he said, adding that this has led the private school to reopen the Bridgehampton campus on Butter Lane.
“Every effort is being made to consider the health and safety of every member of our community. We did not make this decision lightly, but we are very thankful we did not sell or rent the Butter Lane campus, as it is providing us with flexibility and a much higher potential to offer classes five days a week, and in person.
“We all need to remember that this coming year will be completely different, even if we did not make this move,” he continued. “We will all need to work together and think outside the box to provide our students with the best possible experience.”
There will be 11 to 12 students per classroom on the Bridgehampton campus, on average, while the East Hampton school can hold six to 10, where class sizes used to be 18. Just 20 people can now be inside the lecture room that has a maximum capacity of 120, to ensure 6 feet separation in all directions.
“The Bridgehampton classrooms are very, very ‘COVID-friendly,’” Ms. O’Hearn said. “They’re wide open with a lot of windows for ventilation. They’re really conducive to keeping kids safe and spreading them out.”
Each classroom has its own separate outdoor entrance though, which is also a big win in the school’s book. Students will enter into their own pods, which have attached bathrooms, and remain there the entire day. Tents will be placed outside classrooms as well, to get students some fresh air.
“We can completely isolate the kids — not even have to worry about hallways at all,” Ms. O’Hearn said. “I think we’re in a good position to deal with this pandemic and still keep our kids in classes. If somebody does get sick, the classes are so isolated that we won’t have to close unless the governor demands we close.”
But three to five families are still considering a remote learning option, which is offered to all students.
Teachers of students in kindergarten through sixth grade will live stream their classes, while middle and high school students will be able to watch live streams and videoed sessions. The recordings are to ensure students around the world who have not yet been able to enter the United Stated have access. Some students are from China, Brazil and Columbia, where there are still travel restrictions.
Educators are preparing to be online and in the classroom at the same time, and high school instructors are also ready to have evening office hours to meet the needs of students in other countries like China, Japan, Korea and Thailand.
Students entering the country can arrive at their boarding houses September 12 and 13, but will have to submit to a mandatory 14-day quarantine. After the fifth day, the school will have students tested for the novel coronavirus. All students and staff will need to be tested on or after September 10 — within seven days of the first day of school.
Ross will also be utilizing the app MyMedBot, on which parents will log children’s temperatures — taken at home — daily. The school does not currently have a plan for checking temperatures at the door, but is leaning toward doing so after seeing the system the East Hampton Union Free School District has in place.
“We haven’t made a final decision, but I think we probably will do that. It makes sense,” Ms. O’Hearn said “We know some are asymptomatic, and a temperature doesn’t necessarily mean a child has COVID-19; and it’s not that we don’t trust our parents, but the faculty strongly supports this. They want to be assured that kids coming onto campus are healthy. We’re working to keep everyone as safe as possible.”
Teachers will wear masks and face shields, and students will have to wear face masks at all times.
“We recognize that the pandemic is fluid, and we must approach all aspects of our planning and implementation with patience, flexibility and knowledge,” Mr. O’Hearn said. “Information and best practices are changing almost daily.”
He said staff will be reaching out to families to offer social opportunities — Zooming with other children, teachers and administrators to build community and relationships in preparation to reopen.
“It’s going to be complicated, but we think it’s going to work well. We are excited to open,” Ms. O’Hearn said. “It will be a different year, there’s no question — no dances or pep rallies and things like that, and orientations and parent-teacher meetings will all be virtual — but our goal is to keep kids safe and in school for as long as possible. We are hopeful that the precautions we’ve put in place will be successful.”