Current prep-school parents and students: How well has your school handled the pandemic?

I have read a few recent posts regarding how some schools have handled the pandemic. How well has your school handled the pandemic? How did the school do with distance learning during the spring? Was there in-person learning during the fall and will there be in-person learning again this spring? Were you pleased with the quality of education or did you feel that it was lacking? Were you satisfied with safety measures that the school took to prevent the spread of COVID?

My kids’ school (day school) did a phenomenal job! They have on-campus Covid testing and a robust contact-tracing program, with great communication to parents. They went all virtual last spring (real-time) so classes continued as usual - just online. They returned to campus this fall (virtual was also offered if parents wanted to keep kids home) and went all virtual again just before and after the holiday break (for 2 weeks on each end). They are back to in-person again on campus.

Desks have plexiglass around them, kids sit distanced apart. They also have much more rigid lunch schedules and gathering places. As a healthcare provider, I feel they went above and beyond.


Our son’s BS did a wonderful job. They instituted online after last year’s Spring break and it went very well. The kids and teachers all took up the challenge and did great. We don’t think there was any drop off in learning. This fall, they all returned for in person learning but had to adhere to the protocols. Masks, testing, etc. and day students had additional protocols. Only two cases and they exited campus and contact tracing required a few others to quarantine but they were not infected and once they tested negative, they were back in person. Random testing and adherence to social distancing did the trick. Our school took it seriously, no exceptions. After the holidays, they all went back after testing negative. Once there, they all had to submit to another round of tests. We wish that our son could have had a more normal year but compared to the LPS and even other BS, we feel so fortunate. He and his friends are doing great.


I am pleased with the school’s communication and commitment to the well-being of the students. They have been very transparent and thoughtful. They have had countless parent q&a zoom calls, weekly email updates, the teachers and staff have been all in and available during distance learning.

In the spring they ratcheted back their expectations academically, and had less class time. They were mindful that not all student had equal access to tech or other challenges, so they decided that nobody’s grades in the spring would go down from what they had in the fall, but they could go up.

They invested in infrastructure early and often, and spent a ton of time figuring out Plan A, B and C - pretty much for any contingency. They planned to be flexible. That has proven very important. They have never wavered from the goal of having the students in campus if at all possible. It has turned out that they have not been able to have that as much as they would like, as things got bad in California at the worst times.

They made the decision to not do both distance and in person classes at the same time - the students did not have the choice. They figured they could do one well or the other, but not both. They learned from the spring experience, and changed up the grading structure and the pace of class work for the distance learning this winter in the hopes of improving the mental health of the kids while at home.

They had some challenges onboarding in the fall, mainly around food and activities. They couldn’t do the pod system because of county health regulations, so the kids were too isolated. When the initial quarantine was over, it helped a lot. They took full advantage of the California weather and had all classes outdoors.

They had a regular testing regimen and none of the students tested positive (there was a false positive situation- which in a sense was good because we know how cases would be reported and how the system would work - but it must have been horrible for the families).

Right now we are still distance learning- but there are some students on campus who couldn’t change travel plans or couldn’t work from home. Mostly they are international students. We are on track for all the students being back March 7, and then it is straight through to the first week of June.

So overall I think they have done an admirable job, and their approach matches the school’s ethos. They were very team-oriented, methodical in their decisions, and concerned for the community. They were maybe too optimistic at times, which was frustrating when the plans had to change. But there was never a question that they are doing everything they can to get the students back on campus and learning. They were just thwarted by California’s rules and the spike in numbers.

Now, have the students learned at the same pace as they would have in a normal year? Definitely not. Have the students struggled with isolation, stress and mental health? Without question. Both of those are issues all teens are dealing with, regardless of school, so I figure all I can expect is for the school to acknowledge the issues, come up with plans to address them, and competently execute on the plans. Compared to other California high schools - public or private, day or boarding- I feel like the school has been among the best at delivering an actual high school experience, just by having ANY in person classes.

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I’m assuming you want actual names of schools and not just “our school” did well. Are you looking to compare for making a choice for next year?

Groton did very well in my estimation. Last spring was hard. I assume it was hard for everyone. My one quibble was that there was zero relaxing of academic pressure even though zoom learning cannot compare with in person learning. So kids had to scramble sometimes to learn things because tests were just as hard, etc.

For fall Groton prioritized bringing ALL kids back to campus and did so with rigorous safety measure and testing. Better than most peer schools - kids did not have to quarantine in their rooms at school for two weeks. There were no student cases in the fall. Everyone on campus was tested weekly and waste was also tested weekly for early warning.

For thanksgiving and Christmas we were virtual again, returning to school around January 18 with similar strict testing. Several more kids have tested positive but generally testing and masking seems to be working again.

Communication is fine. Groton does not value parental input in the slightest but seems to be mostly making choices that I like so :woman_shrugging:. My son feels ok going to drop in on a Dean if there’s a problem that needs attention due to pandemic protocols. This is a small school value. Pretty much all the teachers are teaching in person which I consider a positive compared to Andover or Milton.

All in all, I don’t know of another BS that has handled this as well from my priority list point of view. There has been no student to teacher spread at school and masks are mandated at all time.

(Edited to take out what was kindly pointed out to me was insensitive).


Thank you everyone for sharing. My kids have been virtual for almost a full year and assuming we have options on M10, in person, physical learning will be a big factor in our decision making.


My son’s private school has been exceptional. Rapid move to online, followed by a pivot to hybrid - flawless. Their applications are up 43% YoY and I can’t help but believe their handling of a difficult situation has been helpful. On the other hand, my daughter’s public school has handled things quite poorly, but slowly improving.


I should have noted in my post that his school is Canterbury


OP, you might want to asks specifically which schools you’d like to know about. Some folks don’t like to post the name of the school but might DM you with what transpired at their school. You could also hear about what worked and what didn’t.


Thank you to everyone who has responded to my questions! Happytimes2001, you mentioned that I might want to ask about specific schools. My son applied to Mercersburg, St. Andrew’s, Lawrenceville, and Peddie. Thanks again!

Best of luck. I think there has been a mixed bag of experiences. I don’t know about any of those schools. Hopefully, some folks will chime in.

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OP, since you asked about specific schools, I will give you my feedback on how Mercersburg has handled COVID and the return to campus this year. From the beginning (all the way back to last spring), the school has been very transparent about their thoughts and processes moving forward. Throughout the summer they kept parents informed and laid out plans for on-campus return, while also being honest that things could change based on local conditions or government directives. This past fall, they offered every student the option to be either fully online or on campus - there were no restrictions on who could study fully online. (I say this because there are schools who limited their virtual classes to international students only.) Not only that, but students could choose on a term by term basis whether they wanted to be on campus or be virtual. So if you decided to be online for the fall, you did not have to commit to online for the other 2 terms, which was nice. Day students were given an option to live on campus in the fall, and many of them took that opportunity. We chose to have our son on campus in the fall, and it was a successful (albeit different) semester for him and all of his friends. Being in their third year there, he and his friends were acutely aware of the traditions and activities that they missed out on in the fall. Thankfully his group of friends tend to be good natured and flexible, so they rolled with the new routine and just made the best of it. It was enough of a positive experience that he hoped to return for the winter term in January, as the school had originally planned.

Mercersburg had originally scheduled their return to campus on January 11th, but due to the surge in cases across the country and in the rural Franklin county, they pushed back the return date to March 6th/7th. This decision was made in mid-December, to give parents time to adjust travel plans. Right now we are in the middle of the online winter term, and their 2 week spring break starts this Friday afternoon. When they return in March, they will go through the same process as fall - pre-arrival COVID test, arrival day COVID test, quarantine and then one more test 5 days after, then finally they will be released to in-person instruction. They will stay there for 13 weeks straight to finish out the Winter and Spring terms, and they’re all done by June 4th, which is a little later than a normal year, I think.

Mercersburg moved to the block schedule this year, as many schools did, to ease the burden of class scheduling during these times. I think its safe to say the jury is still out on whether they will be using the block schedule again, or maybe using some kind of modified block schedule next year. My son ended up having an honors math course and AP Chem course in the fall term, all in 9 weeks, and that was a challenge. We didn’t feel like he fully absorbed all the Chem, and I think there were topics that were missed all together. His next math course will not be until next year, so that is a lot of time to put between math courses. I will be interested to hear what they are going to do with the schedule next year.

Overall, I have felt that the administration has made thoughtful, research based decisions, and communicated those well to parents. Our HOS is transparent and accessible - she personally answered an email I sent last summer regarding day students on campus. Personally, I feel like some of the decisions could have been made differently (for example, I would have preferred the return that St Marks did this winter - return late January, cut spring break all together, stay on campus and end early for the year). But, they made the decisions they thought were best given the information and circumstances that were presented to them. My son is excited to return on March 6th, and it sounds like the school has put a lot of thought into student activities and student life in general to make the spring a positive experience. There is certainly no lack of effort on their part, and I genuinely appreciate all they have done to get our kids back on campus and keep the community safe during uncertain times.

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Middlesex has handled the pandemic rather poorly in my opinion. We haven’t had but a few cases but we have been forced to live in virtual quarantine since the pandemic hit. Taking away the entire life of a child and not having any sporting activities or socialization with their friends is deeply damaging to children. To remove every positive experience in the life of a child in an effort to stop a virus with a 99.6 percent cure rate seems ludicrous and extreme.


Hi, @optimistic7 - thanks for the insider view. On Instagram it looks like kids are on campus, is that not correct? I see kids in outdoor gatherings, playing music inside with masks, etc. Are students not in any classrooms but staying in rooms? Is that only boarders with no day students on campus? I would love more detail on what’s going on, since we have applied.

Hi there @spoonbender. All students are on a “hybrid program” and attend class three days a week. Boarders are unable to leave campus at all. Day students are divided into two sections that attend on different days and in the event you happen to be placed in a different section than your friends, you won’t see any of your friends all year. Additionally, day students have been forbidden from any outside activities which is the reason many choose to be day students. Most prep schools have managed to have some semblance of athletic seasons and even competitions but not so at MX. It is a lot of money to spend on prep school for none of the experiences that make prep school unique.

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Wow, I was unaware that there were seasons and competitions going on for most prep schools. We seem to have selected schools that haven’t done that. From what I understand, the ones we picked are mostly practicing with their teams or doing internal scrimmages…when they are on campus of course. I hadn’t pictured boarders leaving campus at schools that are back, is that possible at some schools?

I am trying to wrap my head around regional/state restrictions, league restrictions and school restrictions for the sports at different schools, but right now it’s probably all pretty moot until we find out if she gets in. These comments are helpful, though!

As a point of comparison, we are in CA, which is pretty strict, and my older one’s independent day HS also is on a hybrid schedule with in person learning 2-3x a week, and only certain kids on campus certain days (F+Soph are M+W, J+Sen are T+Th, Fri is for studio classes). There are restrictions on club sports - you can do one - and the state HS athletics governing body has said you can’t do the now-opening school sports if you are doing club, so I think the serious club folks probably won’t play in the super-abbreviated HS sports school seasons all starting and running in tight sequence starting now. Not really sure about that part. It is also an expensive school ($55K day tuition), but we did get refunds for the trips she didn’t take. But we have felt glad she is in session at all; the public schools here have still not opened since March 2020 for any in person learning whatsoever.

You make such a valid point about comparing what is going on at home to what is going on at school. We live in a state that has been “open” since August. Schools opened either on time or after a few weeks delay and club sports have been in session since the summer (school sports vary by county/district/school). So for us, sending kiddo to a school that has, what feels like the most strict restrictions of all the BSs, its been a tough sell for her. Her friends at home are living life in a similar manner to pre-pandemic times while she’s isolated in her dorm room. Her BS did not have interscholastic competitions in the fall, but they did have practices, they were completely remote in the winter, and now hopefully in the spring they will have interscholastic competitions within the state. Without a doubt, it’s been a disappointing start for kiddo.

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One last thought…(and I try to keep this in mind when I’m grumbling about kiddo’s school). There are many different angles in which each of these schools has to approach their Covid action plan.
Some are more regulated by state health departments than others. And some of those health departments are stricter than others. We’ve noticed most BSs in kiddo’s school’s state were remote for winter term. We can’t blame the school for that, but it is something to take into consideration when choosing a school going forward (I suspect this won’t be the only pandemic we deal with in the next 10 years). The day student population is another huge factor. Schools with few/no day students can control the population much more easily than ones with a lot of day students. Again, something to consider when choosing a school in or out of a pandemic. I also think the significant international population at kiddo’s school was a catalyst for the school to make such an early decision on being remote for winter. I suspect there was pressure for a plan to be in place early on because international students needed to decide whether to go home over winter break or state in the states. So while I am quick to criticize kiddos school, I do also recognize they have their hands tied on many levels. In non Covid times, kiddo’s school’s location, day student population and international population is a pro. In a pandemic, those things are negatives. Let’s hope by the Fall, none of these things are a factor anymore!!

Agree with @cityran that state and local governments play a role in a schools ability to reopen. PA and NJ governors have proven to be lock down tyrants over the past year, which has led to a lot of tension across communities.


It really is all relative, based on community/state. Pretty interesting how one bs’s rules are more restrictive than its community schools, but in other states those same bs rules would be liberating.

I am happy with Cate’s offering what they do, but only because it compares favorably to the public high school kiddo would go to. It isn’t doing as much as boarding schools in other states, because it can’t. Which makes me a bit jealous, I suppose, but grass is always greener.

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