Plans for opening in the fall

A robust educational and residential experience for all students. Highlights include a staggered schedule, online learning and safety protocols. 

June 30, 2020

Dear Exeter students and families,

I am pleased to announce that we look forward to welcoming our new and returning students to campus this fall. 

Throughout our discussions, we have been guided by three key considerations:

  1. The health and safety of our students, our employees and their families, and our local community.
  2. Providing an excellent academic and community experience for all our students.
  3. Preserving flexibility to adjust to any changes in pandemic conditions as health and safety requirements allow or dictate.

We believe we have created a plan that will support a robust educational and residential experience for all students. It is impossible to eliminate potential health risks associated with COVID-19 entirely, but based on consultation with leading medical experts locally and nationally, we believe our plan will allow us to bring students on campus while providing multiple layers of protection. Our plan also provides the flexibility for us to make adjustments if conditions related to COVID-19 change.

The most important aspects of our plan include:

  1. Students will return to campus on a staggered schedule over three and a half weeks.
  2. Classes will be conducted online for the fall term while students and adults adjust to new safety protocols and behavioral norms. A faculty working group is developing a plan for in-person instruction that can be integrated into our online platform as health and safety conditions allow.
  3. New housing spaces on campus will be utilized to allow students to live in singles and larger doubles.  
  4. COVID-19 testing will be required of all students.
  5. Community members will utilize physical distancing and wear protective masks. 

Plan details are presented below, and more information may be found in the FAQ section of our opening-of-school webpage.


Health and Safety Protocols

During our time together on campus, we will follow health and safety protocols that for many have already become a way of life. We will practice physical distancing throughout campus, and face masks will be an important foundational protocol utilized by all community members. Frequent handwashing will be important, and hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout campus. We will provide a COVID-19 testing protocol that will have students tested prior to their arrival on campus, again shortly after arriving to campus, and again approximately a week later. Daily symptom checks will be standard practice for all members of the community, and rigorous disinfection and cleaning protocols will be applied throughout campus. To support these new initiatives, we are hiring additional medical professionals and securing dedicated facilities to screen and, if necessary, support students who may need to be isolated or quarantined. 

Student Arrivals to Campus

We look forward to welcoming students to campus in stages this fall. Student leaders will arrive on September 7, followed by all uppers, seniors and postgraduates on September 9. Finally, our preps and lowers will start classes remotely and will then arrive to campus on October 3. Day students will be invited to join the campus community with their class.  

This staggered approach to the opening days of school will allow us to get settled initially at slightly more than half capacity while also reducing the congestion normally associated with the start of school. It gives our medical team time to complete COVID-19 screening for uppers, seniors and postgraduates before our younger students arrive, and time for dormitory faculty to work with older students to help them adjust to new behavioral norms. It also makes it possible for us to do some important training for our student leaders so that they are able to best support our younger students when they arrive to campus. Much will be familiar this fall but many routines will be new and we would like the benefit of experience with new protocols and behavioral norms in the dormitories and around the campus before moving to full capacity.  

This means that preps and lowers, who comprise the majority of new students, will start the school year at home. While we do not consider that optimal, when preps and lowers do arrive, we will be ready to welcome them warmly. With the help of our student proctors, they will quickly be integrated into strong dormitory communities that have already adjusted to new routines. Our uppers, seniors and postgraduates will have learned the new ropes pertaining to the full range of community activities and will be able to show the way. COVID-19 screening will be much easier to conduct for preps and lowers with testing of uppers, seniors and postgraduates already completed. During the days preceding the start of classes, preps and lowers will have some virtual orientation activities, and they will meet with their advisers and dormitory proctors and participate in dorm meetings virtually during the first weeks of school. Additional orientation and class activities will happen once preps and lowers arrive on campus.  

As noted in the calendar below, students studying on-campus will return home November 24 for the Thanksgiving break. All students will remain home for the start of winter term and participate in remote online instruction in December. Students will then return to campus on January 3. Decisions about our primary method of instruction for the balance of the winter term will be made this fall, but it is our current hope to be able to transition to in-person instruction in January. Our ability to do so will depend on a number of factors, including pandemic conditions at that time. Students unable to return to campus in January will continue with online instruction from home.

Term Calendar

September 7

Student leaders arrive on campus

September 9

Uppers, seniors and postgraduates arrive on campus

September 10

Online classes begin

October 3

Preps and lowers arrive on campus

November 24

Fall term ends after classes

December 7

Winter term begins with online instruction

December 18

Winter break begins after classes

January 3

All students return to campus**

March 5

Winter term ends after classes

March 21

All students return to campus*

June 3

Spring term ends after classes

*Our intention is to welcome all students to campus at the same time in January and March. Should conditions not make that possible, we will adjust our plans accordingly.

**Updated from the original email. 


Fall Term Class Instruction

With safety as a top priority, online instruction will be the backbone of our academic program for the fall term. Our approach to online instruction will be significantly enhanced due to our ability to draw on past experiences and with the benefit of time to build a more robust and equitable classroom experience focused on academic excellence. An online approach will allow us to reduce close contacts between students and between students and teachers associated with in-person instruction. In addition, online instruction allows us to deliver a single method of instruction to support all students, both on and off campus, and to allow for uninterrupted instruction for any student who may need to be quarantined. 

Faculty are already hard at work this summer to ensure that our online instruction is further enhanced by the expertise gathered from leaders in the field, by the feedback received from students, by the spirit of Harkness pedagogy, and by our institutional commitment to equity and inclusion. Our daily schedule is being reimagined to allow for more synchronous learning. Each academic department is developing exciting new engagement opportunities that are only possible because of our faculty’s commitment to deliver the rich range of courses and the level of excellence commensurate with an Exeter education. 

At the same time, a faculty working group is developing a plan for the integration of some in-person instruction into our online platform during the course of the fall term. In-person instruction opportunities might include redesigned classrooms, classes in smaller sections, and outdoor classrooms. We will offer science labs in smaller sections and science field trips. It also will be possible for students to meet with their instructors individually and with each other in small work groups.  

Our daily schedule will focus on supporting students in an equitable and holistic manner. With all or most students on campus, we can offer a supportive environment for online learning, with extra support from adults on campus when needed. The new schedule will allow for some synchronous teaching with greater sensitivity to time zones for those students who are unable or chose not to return to campus in the fall term. We are creating times for advising meetings, faculty office hours and community activities. The schedule will also create a large break between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. for students to pursue a range of interests including athletics, music ensembles, theater rehearsals, clubs and other activities. The schedule also has time reserved specifically for community conversations, including those regarding anti-Black racism and strategies for making our school and community actively and effectively anti-racist.


Dorm life is a key part of the Exeter experience. We are excited to have a plan that allows for a return to campus for our boarding students while also building and maintaining the important bonds that are core to the residential experience. We plan to modify how we house students within each dormitory. Boarding students will now be living in singles or larger doubles.  Smaller doubles will be converted to singles for the upcoming year. HEPA air filters will be installed in all double rooms to maximize air flow and to provide for air purification. To help reduce some campus density, we will be utilizing new spaces on campus for additional dormitory housing. This approach to dormitory living allows us to create smaller dorm units within each dorm. These dorm units will require students to use particular bathroom spaces and may allow students more relaxed safety protocols within their dorm unit when it is safe to do so.

Day Students

Day students are a vital part of our community and we are establishing a number of enhancements to the day student experience this fall. Day students will return to campus on the same schedule as their boarding peers. For example, ninth-grade day students, like their boarding counterparts, will have access to campus on October 3 and will participate in the same COVID-19 testing protocols. Online classes for ninth- and 10th-grade day students will be taken from home initially and, after October 3, from designated study areas on campus. In addition, we have secured study carrels in the library exclusively for day students. We will also be identifying areas on campus where all students, day and boarding, will be able to gather during free time while still following health and safety protocols. 

Campus Dining

We will provide new and innovative ways for community members to enjoy a full range of meal choices while also following new safety protocols. Adjustments to how we gather for meals include reconfiguring existing spaces and adding large oversized tents (similar to what we use for reunions and graduation weekend) to allow for physical distancing during meal times. Students will have the choice of either a continental breakfast in their dormitory or full-breakfast take-out options at Elm Street dining hall. Lunch and dinner will occur with extended dining hours, offering the regular array of dining choices that students have come to expect. Students will pick up their food and have the choice to eat in seating areas adjacent to dining halls, their dormitories, or other areas such as the Academy Center or similar common spaces both indoors and outdoors. Through the day, light food and snacks will be available in various locations. We will also be providing occasional meal options from local restaurants and food trucks. As always, the dining service professionals will fully accommodate all specific dietary needs.

Community Activities

A big part of the Exeter experience is the joy that comes from being able to pursue one’s passions and to discover new interests by participating in a variety of campus-based activities.  We will need to adjust how we make that possible for students, but we are already exploring new and innovative ways to deliver on that promise. Some clubs will meet online, others will meet in person with proper physical distancing. Our faculty in the arts are imagining new ways to engage our musicians, thespians, dancers and visual artists to allow for ongoing training, performances and shows. Affinity groups will be active. The school newspaper will be published. Community service programs, language clubs and so many other activities will discover new ways of meeting, and we stand ready to support these efforts while following our health and safety protocols.

On the athletic front, our new Director of Physical Education and Athletics, Jason Baseden, is already here and working with our coaches to prepare for the upcoming school year. We are in conversations with our peer schools, athletic league officials and, of course, medical professionals to determine if interscholastic games can occur this fall. No decision has been made as of yet, but we hope to have one later in the summer. In the meantime, our fall athletes will have a fully integrated program of skill development, conditioning and at least some intramural competitions waiting for them when they come to campus. Our athletic facilities will be available for use and will follow health and safety protocols.

We also want to be clear that while we are easing back into life on campus, we fully expect and encourage students to be active and mobile throughout campus. We are a community that thrives on connections. Students will be able to move around campus freely but will be expected to follow physical distancing and mask-wearing requirements. Yes, life may feel different at first, but once we all adjust to the new behavioral norms, so much of our daily lives will feel familiar. 

Family Choice

These are unusual times, so we are providing some flexibility to our families for the upcoming school year. Boarding students who are unable to come to campus at the start of the term or elect to study remotely from home will be allowed to do so and will have their tuition adjusted to that of a day student. We stand ready to support any student who must join us remotely for a term or longer during the 2020-2021 academic year.  


Nothing brings more energy and positivity to this campus than the presence of our remarkable students. All of us — students and adults alike — will have a shared responsibility to adhere to our new safety protocols and do our part to protect our community as much as possible. I am confident that our students and faculty will rise to the occasion in the spirit of non sibi, and that these adjustments shall not diminish the power that comes from being together. We hope to enjoy the very best of Exeter: a remarkable educational and residential experience committed to serving youth from every quarter.  

On a personal note, I must share just how excited I will be to see our students on campus this fall. For those of you who may be unable to come to campus or who choose to remain home for the term, please know how much I look forward to welcoming you to campus later in the year. 

What’s Next
  1. I invite you to join me and several of my colleagues for a live town hall webinar on Thursday, July 2, at 7 p.m. EDT, during which we will discuss our plan and answer your questions. Invitations to register for the webinar, along with a form to submit questions in advance, will be sent to all students and parents/guardians later today. Please know this webinar will be recorded for those who are unable to join us. 
  2. Please explore our opening-of-school webpage, where you can view some of the most commonly asked questions about our opening-of-school plan and our responses to those questions.
  3. While we do have some medically appropriate spaces for quarantining students, we are asking all families to help us in our planning efforts by identifying a place off campus where their student could quarantine safely should that become necessary. Often this is at the student’s home, a relative’s home or a home of a close family friend. Given the very global nature of our community, we recognize not all families will be able to identify an off-campus location and we will be happy to work with you to find an appropriate solution. Please be on the lookout for an email with more details on this request.
  4. All families will need to sign an addendum to our enrollment contract that speaks to our pandemic planning and the expectation that students will adhere to all safety and health protocols. This addendum will be sent to you next week for your signature.
  5. Over the next few weeks, we will be sending out several follow-up communications, including additional details about at-home COVID-19 testing, orientation activities for new students and updates about campus arrivals, as well as other important opening-of-school details.  

I want to thank you all for your continued support and partnership. Together, we are going to have a wonderful school year.  


William K. Rawson ’71, P’08
Phillips Exeter Academy