Letter to Families on August 12, 2020

Our Leadership Team has decided that the best path forward to invite all Academy students on to campus -- an aspiration we have articulated since June -- is a careful and gradual one. While we have created an environment that meets and exceeds the recommendations from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics for in-person schooling, our entire community will need to play a significant role so that on-campus school for all becomes a reality.

The path that we need to travel to get to all students on campus each day requires that we attend to four powerful conditions:

  1. Our families will need to understand the inherent risk every child takes in choosing to attend school in person and comply with expectations of our COVID-19 environment (which includes daily health checks for students and communicating with the school as described in our new Community Expectations).
  2. Our faculty and staff find they are able to execute effective teaching and learning at the current capacity level amidst health and safety expectations before additional students are added.
  3. Our students will demonstrate regular habits of expected safe health practices at school.
  4. Our school health and safety environment and the COVID-19 conditions in our local geography indicate that adding students on campus is possible.

The route towards in-person school every day for all students begins with two weeks of what I referred to in my last letter as a “shakedown cruise” to make sure our systems and training are working for each student and our faculty and staff. During the short week from September 8-11 after Labor Day, we hope to have our entire Lower School on campus while still conducting a hybrid (in-person and online) model in the Middle and Upper Schools. We plan to open our CASE after-school programs during this third week so long as we are able to maintain confidence that the four conditions above are being met. You will hear on September 8 if Columbus Academy intends to increase the number of MS and US students on campus for the fourth week starting on September 14 and going forward. If all goes well in our beginning and our gradual increases, we will hope to have in-person school fully and in a sustained way.

During this literal “on-boarding” time, the Lower School will be bringing students on campus at a higher capacity than the Middle and Upper Schools because maintaining the curricular life in those older divisions requires traveling between classes, hallway passing times and many more contact points for faculty and children. The curricular composition in the Lower School lends itself well to cohorts: small individual classes (we have increased the number of classrooms from 28 to 47) that are primarily self-contained for the school day. You will find much more specific details for each division in this Campus Reopening Plan. We know that many of you are anxious to view class lists and advisory groupings, which will be shared next week. If you have questions about other matters, please reach out to the appropriate division head.

Encouraging us to continue to imagine on-campus school for all are our conversations with leading physicians and researchers in our community and initial experiences with upper school athletes since June. For two months, the school has had over 100 student-athletes practicing in training pods, and their success in attending to social-distancing guidelines, frequent hand-sanitizing and wearing masks when not training has been a hopeful example for us all.

“I am convinced that the consequences of cancelling or even delaying in-person instruction far outweighs the risk that any of our children are likely to contract clinically significant disease by attending classes,” wrote one front-line physician with an opinion shared widely by others. This particular doctor, a practicing emergency medicine physician in one of the busiest emergency departments in the state, went on to say of the benefits of on-campus learning: “In-person instruction affords the opportunity for teachers and administrators to provide a physically-distanced environment that children are unlikely to have if not in school.”

These sentiments have also been expressed by pediatricians with whom we have consulted and mirrors guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics (view here).

While complexities abound in the opening of school this year, there is one simple truth. We have strength as a community -- of students, faculty, staff and families -- and when we are deliberate and intentional about our teaching and learning, we will be serving our mission and our students in the best ways possible.

Thank you for your partnership and your trust,

Melissa Soderberg
Head of School


Letter to Families on July 24, 2020

I know you have been waiting to hear from us about the start of school, the planning of which gets more complex by each passing day that COVID cases increase in Columbus. We have spent the summer organizing to accommodate classes in person safely, which requires considerable resources and planning. Even though we are in compliance with the CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Ohio Department of Health according to their guidelines and suggestions, we will open on campus only if the conditions in our county/city/state show a decline in COVID-related cases.

Please know that we appreciate how important having your child(ren) attend school in person is to our families. Also know that we will prioritize the health and safety of our students, and our faculty and staff, no matter how compelling the circumstances may be to have students on campus. You can expect to hear a final determination by August 12 as to which option we plan use at our start. 

Division Heads will be writing parents on Monday, July 27, with many more specific  details regarding the various plans for opening. If we decide to hold school in-person and you expect to keep your child(ren) at home in a virtual experience due to their own physical vulnerability or that of a family member who lives with them, it will be important for you to communicate with each necessary division.

Therefore, there are three ways school could begin on August 24:

  1. We will have all students on campus every day.

  2. We will be in a hybrid model with MS and US students rotating on campus for some days a week and off campus (virtual learning) for other days -- with LS continuing in their small cohorts on campus.

  3. We will be entirely online (with the possible exception of having Explorer and PreK classes running a pandemic-care model on campus) by order of the state or local health department or as a result of what is occurring in our own school community related to COVID.

Opening of School: August 24 to September 4

If we are able to open on campus under option 1 or 2, Columbus Academy will begin with a "soft" start of school. This means that the first two weeks of school are much more likely to be something akin to a NASA "shakedown cruise" than a full-on regular start to school with all our students arriving on campus at the same time or on the same day.

NASA runs a "shakedown" when a newly launched rocket ship needs to be tested for its systems and assumptions. The cruise provides engineers an idea of the vessel's operations and capabilities so adjustments can be made before the actual flight schedule starts. At school, teachers will be working with very small groups of students (who rotate each day) to ensure everyone understands the new routines to keep us safe in the event we will be able to open school for everyone on campus.

Our students and teachers have not been in classrooms for six months, and we all need to adjust socially and emotionally to being together in a COVID routine that is new as well as being in a school setting. We will use the first two weeks to make adjustments and changes to our practices.

How does that translate to what your child experiences the first weeks of school? Each division will invite students in small groups (by grade, or parts of grades) to campus for the first two weeks of school. In Middle and Upper School, there will be days when a student is not invited to campus, and that student will continue academic work in classes virtually. Lower School may also have days on campus and days online.

Post-Labor Day Weekend: Starting September 8

After our soft opening, we will transition to the option chosen by August 12th unless conditions have changed.

Why might we be able to offer school in person on our campus safely to a greater degree than our public school counterparts?

Because we have full control over our budgets, have always had a low student-to-teacher ratio and have lots of space (both indoor and outdoor), we are able to adjust more nimbly to what safety requires of us than larger schools. Consequently, the school has invested considerable resources -- installing the recommended HVAC filters on all our air cleaning systems, developing hand-washing and sanitizing stations at all points throughout buildings, creating multiple additional classroom spaces and creating open spaces in our buildings for safe distancing (one-way hallways, for example) and enhanced outdoor spaces for class use -- to create an environment that is familiar and as controlled as possible.


Since mid-June, our fall athletic teams have been training in 9:1 ratio training groups (pods) with their coaches. Recently, larger groups have been allowed to train together. This work with our student-athletes has been a successful bellwether for how outdoor activity may happen during in-school recess and breaks. It remains to be determined whether teams will have interscholastic competition as we continue to look to the OSHAA for guidance.


Students will be served lunch every day, with only a relatively small number of students actually going to the dining hall to eat their lunch. Our team of cooks and servers is working hard to create healthy options that resemble the excellent choices our students regularly enjoy.

C.A.S.E. After-School Care

We are planning to offer after-school care in a more limited fashion with students in smaller groups. There are several challenges to the logistics of this planning, and CASE will not be available until September 8.


If your family relies on school bus transportation, it is likely that you have been made aware of your local district's plans to transport your child(ren). Please contact Director of Admissions John Wuorinen if you have questions or concerns about school bus transportation.

Opening school in the midst of a pandemic is exceptionally complex as it becomes the nexus of people's emotions and expectations around both safety and education. We will continue to do our best to determine the most appropriate ways we offer school.


Melissa Soderberg
Head of School


Division-Specific Details Shared on July 27, 2020


Letter to Families on June 27, 2020

The events since March in our city, country and the world represent a time of astonishing change socially, economically and medically. Our planning for school is absolutely shaped by these sweeping events, and therefore is – particularly as related to the coronavirus – subject to shifting change (even from the plans outlaid here) as we strive to maintain an educational program that is safe and responsive to the schooling of our students and the health of our families.

Fundamental Principles

We believe children grow academically, socially and in their character best when they attend school daily and form close relationships with teachers and students in-person. The leadership of the school, by drawing from the best expertise in science and education available, is striving to strike a balance of lowering the risk of COVID-19 transmission while preserving the in-person school experience (with social distancing, of course) through a modified but familiar schedule on campus.

To follow our fundamental principles, we will need full cooperation from our families in preserving the sense of safe health practices in our community as will be outlined in future communications. They are likely to include a daily release of each student to the school through an everyday medical questionnaire, willingness to participate in testing and tracing with your doctor should the school ask you to do so, and following quarantine expectations when asked by the school. We are also very likely to have no visitors, or very few, on campus.

Start of the Year for Lower School

For the foreseeable future in our first semester, all lower-schoolers – Explorers through Grade 5 – will be placed in small homeroom groups, based on age-level and physical room space, in which children will go out to recess, take PE and eat lunch with the same teacher and fellow classmates. There will be minimal contact with any group outside of the homeroom (or cohorted) group. This means the school has created multiple additional homeroom spaces and planned for co-curricular teachers to either travel from class to class or remotely teach each homeroom group depending on circumstances around use of space and/or COVID-19 regulations. Lunch will be delivered to classrooms for all lower school students. Finally, students will be taught in age-appropriate ways how to participate in good social hygiene and to clean spaces, furniture and toys they share to aid in the enhanced cleaning our custodial team will be completing.

While masks will be worn by all students and teachers – the small class sizes (as few as six per room in the Explorers program) and six-feet social distancing will create spacious classrooms in case the youngest students struggle with keeping their masks on during the day. We also know that we will need to create "mask breaks" for students and faculty and will allow more liberal mask use when students are outside and able to create greater distance between themselves and others. It is likely that all students' days will involve increased time outdoors on our expansive campus, and it will be as important as ever that they come to school with the appropriate outerwear ready for their day.

Start of Year for Middle and Upper Schools

Middle and upper school classes will range in size by accommodating six-feet social distancing per the square footage of each classroom. There is a good chance that students will travel fewer times to classes and have fewer visits in the hallways (which will likely have one-way designations to them). Lunch will be served either in the dining hall or in a classroom, and this may change on a rotating basis as the dining hall will be used in a much smaller capacity than its size permits. Our food service provider is eliminating self-service bars while working to maintain the variety and quality of lunch familiar to us.

Gathering during advisory, free time and lunch is likely to involve the outdoors to a much greater degree than under regular conditions. It will be as important as ever that students come to school with the appropriate outerwear ready for their day. Masks will be worn by all students and teachers, and students will be taught how to clean their desks and other equipment they share at school. As with the Lower School, we will create "mask breaks" for students and faculty and will allow more liberal use of them when students are outside and able to create greater distance between themselves and others.


We recognize that some students will not be able to join us in-person and on campus because of health concerns of their own or their families. The school is presently testing technology options that will allow us to "broadcast by streaming" a number of classes to students (they will be able to participate live) who may have to be home in quarantine.

As we all know, there is the possibility that the spread of COVID-19 worsens over the fall, and Columbus Academy may have to change its plans from having all students on campus everyday to a hybrid model, or we may be forced to vacate our buildings (as we did from March-June) and return to temporary online learning. We have spent the resources, time and energy to make our school experience as familiar as possible under unprecedented circumstances.

After-School Care (CASE), Bus Transportation and Athletics

While we hope to offer CASE right away for our families, the logistics, regulations, health and safety plans are taking us a while to sort through. We will be in touch later in the summer about how we hope to offer after-school care. We thank you for your patience and know how important this aspect of our care is to families.

If your family utilizes district-provided busing to Columbus Academy, it is possible that your school district will change its busing commitment to non-public schools. We are committed to working with families on this exceptionally complicated issue, and we want to know how you may be individually affected.

The OSHAA will be announcing regulations on fall sports seasons sometime soon. We will host athletic practices and games as long as we can do so safely, and the seasons are likely to follow a shortened schedule and have few or no spectators.

Future Communications

Parents and guardians will be receiving multiple communications about school regulations, policies, procedures and expectations having to do with health, safety and community standards through your divisions, the nurses' office and the athletics office. Please watch for these as we organize to make the start of school a fun, albeit safety-conscious, beginning.

While it may be obvious, it is important to note that all students, faculty and staff have always risked their health when leaving home and entering the enterprise of school on our campus – as in the cases of communicable diseases such as lice, whooping cough and the flu – but particularly in the time of COVID-19, a highly transmissible and possibly deadly disease. While we will inculcate safe health practices, we know we are likely to have COVID diagnoses among our population and will manage those through quarantine and other measures. Future communications will be clear about our procedures in these matters.

Finally, on behalf of all our faculty, staff and administrators, we are excited at the possibility of beginning school August 24 on our campus and can't wait for the opportunity to welcome our new and returning students to the life of classes, friends and play.

Most sincerely,

Melissa Soderberg
Head of School