Duke School Important Changes to Reopening Plan

Dear Duke School Family,

When Duke School first introduced its proposed models for re-opening school for the 2020-21 academic year, we were optimistic about our plan, but acknowledged that decisions would likely continue to change based on changing circumstances—both in the weeks leading up to the start of school, and once the year begins.  

Between our last update and upon welcoming faculty and staff back to campus on Monday, the Leadership Team, Board, and I met with and listened to the questions, concerns and ideas of our faculty and staff about how best to fulfill our priorities. As teachers returned this week to prepare to welcome students back to school through our On-Campus and Bridged Distance Learning Models, I was keenly aware of their extraordinary devotion to the school and our students. As they engaged in thoughtful dialogue about what will constitute a successful return to school, both on-line and on-campus, their creativity, compassion, and ingenuity in thinking through an unprecedented set of circumstances to meet every student’s needs was truly inspiring. Through all of this, they were clear that they required more time to continue with intentionality and utmost care in establishing a cohesive classroom community and fostering the development of autonomy, confidence, and agency that defines a Duke School student.   

A Revised Plan to Extend the Gradual Opening Period through September 11

We are dedicated to developing the best curriculum for all students, both on-line and on campus. As such, we are opening school on August 24 through a hybrid approach. Both teachers and students need time to practice and master new routines surrounding schooling that none of us has previously encountered. We want to carefully model techniques, introduce activities and provide time for students to build community across models; confidently navigate schedules, technology and distance instruction; and to practice and refine procedures that support a low risk environment at school. Faculty also desire time to reflect and partner with families in support of every student. Our hybrid start allows days of virtual instruction for all students to build community together and to launch in a robust academic environment.

A gradual opening also allows us to construct a truly unique and robust Duke School experience for Bridged Distance Learning. We have taken feedback from parents who are interested in this program, and the faculty have been focused on making sure that this is an interactive, inclusive, well resourced and equitable experience for families who have chosen this option. 

Based on needs expressed by our faculty and staff, coupled with input from the Clinical Analyst Group (formerly known as the Health Advisory Group) and by the Board of Trustees, we have made the decision to extend our gradual opening between August 24 and September 11

On August 24, we will start the year with all students engaging temporarily through hybrid learning. To start, all students will engage in distance learning, and those in the on-campus model will come to campus in small groups with increasing frequency to acclimate to school days on campus. This hybrid model allows for students, parents, and faculty to get acclimated with the technology and distance learning procedures in the event we are required to toggle to full distanced learning during the school year. Early next week, the Division Directors will share detailed orientation and hybrid learning schedules for all students, including daily plans from Monday, August 24 through Friday, September 11.  

Once we complete the hybrid opening, we will be ready to shift to our full concurrent On-Campus and Bridged Distance Learning Models, which will commence on September 14.

Selecting the On-Campus or Bridged Distance Learning Models

In a SURVEY SENT TODAY, we asked families to confirm or reconfirm your model of preference for starting school, with a request to make this determination by Sunday. This timeline allows our faculty to plan most effectively during the upcoming professional week. We remain keenly aware that this is a complex and personal decision. It remains that families may choose the Bridged Distance model through September 1, knowing that some families may have extenuating circumstances. We also want to be clear that a family may choose at any point to move from On-campus Learning to Bridged Distance Learning, recognizing they can then return to campus only on the stipulated quarterly basis. As this guidance shows, flexibility is key to success for all! We appreciate your understanding, and we recognize your partnership with us is more critical than ever, as we strive to launch a rich program this fall that meets the needs of all of our students. We will continue to ask for feedback during the gradual opening period to help us best shape the delivery of our models.

After School Program/Prime Time

We have also made the difficult decision to cancel Prime Time and the After School Programs. Maintaining separate cohorts and minimizing cross-over contact would require double the number of our current staff; unfortunately, we have found this hiring challenge insurmountable at this time. 

Return to School Policies 

One of our guiding principles leading into this new school year was ‘Prioritizing the health and safety of our students, employees, and families’. With the expert guidance from our Clinical Analyst Group and policies from both federal and local state public health agencies, we have outlined policies and procedures to create a low-risk on-campus environment. In this communication, we share our RETURN TO SCHOOL POLICIES. This document, which will be updated based on new clinical recommendations, guidance from federal and state agencies, and our own learnings, will enable us to host safe learning opportunities while on campus and is directly dependent on our acceptance of our collective responsibility to adhere to the behaviors described in our Duke School Community Commitment Compact in the Return to School Policies. We have asked all parents to review and sign this commitment before August 24, via our Duke School: Back to School Summer Forms email (sent to families on Thursday, August 6).   

Our revised gradual opening plan also allows us an opportunity to continue to actively monitor key public health trends. Any change to this opening plan would be informed by state mandate, change in guidance from our Clinical Analyst Group, or a change in the perspective of the Board of Trustees relative to factors that they are continuously monitoring as it pertains to supporting a low risk environment to fully open campus.

I am sure these decisions come as a relief to some and are frustrating to others. These are difficult decisions, but we make them with conviction, knowing that we must ensure the confidence of every student in learning, and of every teacher in teaching, in this new environment. Without question, everyone wishes this fall would start like any other, but, as our plan and our pedagogy acknowledge, the world can be uncertain. What is certain, however, is Duke School’s commitment to enabling students to experience the creative, inquiry-based program that they love. Thank you for your continued patience and flexibility. We hope you and your family stay well and enjoy the final days of summer.


Lisa A. Nagel, Head of School

Bimal Shah, Chair, Duke School Board of Trustees

Duke School Board of Trustees

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