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Return to School: Planning and Progress

The latest information

Click here to see The Harley School: Re-Opening Plan for the 2020-21 School Year 

Submitted to New York State 7/31/2020

Harley has established a re-entry task force (RTF) to guide our decision-making as we look to the 2020-21 school year. The group has been working to gather information, discuss possible scenarios, confer with our Health Advisory Board (HAB), and create a process for making recommendations to the Head of School regarding a return to school in the fall.

We are concentrating on building a nimble and flexible approach to respond to the SARS-CoV2 epidemic.

The information shared here provides information and transparency about the planning that is underway. We will continue to share updates with the community, just as we have throughout the emergency response to the stay-at-home order from Governor Cuomo.

Planning Based in Research

Guided by our Health Advisory Board (HAB), consisting of medical and legal professionals from the Harley community, our return to school task force has dedicated time to understanding the health implications of the coronavirus, current best practices for minimizing risk to students and adults in the community, and the variety of teaching methods schools have used to respond to a disrupted classroom experience.

Beyond the education and advice provided by the HAB, the RTF has examined current guidance from the Center for Disease Control, the NY State Department of Health, and the NY State Education Department, studies available in the medical literature related to the coronavirus and COVID-19 in children and school settings, and the plans and experiences of international schools that have already reopened. Additionally, we have utilized our membership and connections within national and regional associations such as the NY State Association of Independent Schools, INDEX member schools, and the National Association of Independent Schools to determine what schools that have reopened have done as well as the planning that independent schools throughout the nation are undertaking.

At this time, the State of New York has not provided any definitive guidance for reopening schools, and so any planning we undertake must account for the possibility that NYSDOH and NYSED will mandate certain requirements beyond our control.

Our Working Understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus and the COVID-19 Disease

Based on the information shared with us by the HAB and research we have conducted, we have come to the following general understanding of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease that it causes. Due to the evolving nature of the scientific research regarding the two, this information is likely to change over time.

  • The primary mode of transmission of the coronavirus occurs when individuals come in contact with respiratory droplets that have been directly coughed or sneezed out or with the coronavirus found on contaminated surfaces.
  • The virus is probably infectious for a couple of hours on hard, non-porous surfaces, and most of the virus expelled in droplets via coughing, sneezing, talking, laughing, etc. will fall rapidly to the ground or other surfaces.
  • The virus envelope is easily disrupted – killing the virus – and cleaning with disinfectants or soap and water is very effective in killing the virus.
  • The incubation period for COVID-19 may be as short as two and as long as 14 days. The median time to develop symptoms is 4.5 days.
  • Up to 50% of individuals with SARS-CoV-2 may not show symptoms.
  • Asymptomatic individuals can transmit the virus without ever showing symptoms or before the onset of symptoms.
  • The average patient with COVID can spread infection to 2-3 people
  • It is possible for individuals, especially younger individuals, to have COVID-19 without displaying any of the symptoms. 
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) viral RNA testing is also not always accurate in the first days of COVID-19, and it may take ten days or more for antibodies to be detectable in antibody tests. 
  • Most people who get COVID-19 have mild symptoms and recover. Individuals most likely to experience potentially fatal responses to COVID-19 include those who are older (above 70) or who have underlying medical conditions such as chronic lung diseases, chronic heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
  • In general, children are more likely to have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, and the fatality rates for those under the age of 18 are very low.
  • There have recently been reports of a multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) with symptoms similar to those found in Kawasaki disease arising as a delayed immune response to the coronavirus.  Most children recover, but some have gotten very sick. 
  • The most common symptoms of COVID-19 include: a fever of 100F or higher, a new cough, difficulty breathing, a sore throat (not due to allergies), body aches, and a loss of sense of taste or smell.
Safety and Health Considerations

Based on current research and experience, here are some of the measure we are likely to take.  State and county health requirements will of course play a large role in determining what those measures are.   

  • Hygiene – personal and environmental considerations include:
    • Personal practices such as frequent handwashing, use of alcohol based hand sanitizers, covering coughs and sneezes, not touching one’s face, minimizing the sharing of physical objects at school, etc. are the first line of protection for individuals to protect against contact with respiratory droplets containing the virus
    • Increased frequency of cleaning practices using appropriate sanitizer – current guidelines include bleach solutions, hydrogen peroxide solutions, soap and water and UV light treatments as being acceptable for disinfection 
  • Social Distancing – examples include, but are not limited to:
    • Maintaining a physical distance of 6 feet or more
    • Being outside is highly effective in minimizing the risk of transmission
    • Limiting who is allowed in the school building.
    • Cohort groups as a means of limiting social interactions has been used in schools and businesses throughout the world to limit group exposure
    • Staying at home may be the most effective means of minimizing risk for those most at danger of having a negative outcome from COVID-19
  • The use of face coverings (masking) and the possible use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when it is not possible to practice appropriate social distancing:
    • We will expect community members to use face coverings/masks when in common areas, classrooms, and settings where social distancing is not possible.
    • We will expect the use of cloth face covering by individuals in our buildings. Medical grade masks are not required, but are acceptable for face covering.
    • Cloth face covering construction and wearing should comply with CDC guidance on the “Use of Cloth Face Coverings to Help Slow the Spread of COVID-19.”
    • We are researching the age at which it is practical and effective for students to wear face coverings/masks when social distancing is not possible. 
    • We are also investigating the effectiveness and practicality of additional PPE, such as face shields and goggles, and the use of plexiglass barriers in classroom, office, and lunchroom settings.
  • Symptom tracking and contact tracing
    • We expect required daily tracking by students and employees of the prominent COVID-19 symptoms, not unlike the RocCovid screening of the Monroe County Public Health Commission.
    • Per CDC guidance, students and employees exhibiting any symptoms should stay at home or will be sent home until cleared to return to school.
    • Contact tracing when there is exposure – we anticipate minimizing the number of individuals that students and employees are in contact with via cohorts to allow for better contact tracking in the case of potential exposure, and we will ask those who have potentially been exposed to stay at home until cleared to return to school.
    • Students and employees should also stay at home if others with whom they live exhibit the onset of any of the above listed symptoms or have tested positive for COVID-19. 
    • If a person who has been at school is confirmed (or suspected) to be infected with COVID-19, the school must be informed of it in order to inform the persons with whom he/she has been in close contact.
  • Cultural change/education
    • Educating community members and ensuring adherence to our safety expectations will be central to our work to promote safety.

The full guidance regarding safety and health considerations will be updated and shared prior to the return to campus.

Possible Scenarios for Re-entry

Face-to-face learning is the best way to provide a Harley education in all of its complexities.  

Our youngest learners most need in-person learning with their teachers in face-to-face settings, and any planning will consider their needs for in-person education at a higher frequency and for longer durations.  Older students need in-person learning as well, but are generally better equipped to function independently and to manage academic remote learning, though they benefit immensely from social emotional learning that occurs in person.

The following represent the three scenarios that we have identified for re-entry to school.  They are only general scenarios, and much work will need to be undertaken by the administration and faculty to determine the details that will form the basis of a great Harley experience.  That said, we can not emphasize enough that significant modifications to most facets of school life will be made to promote health and safety.

Nursery: Every effort will be made to keep Nursery open, in-person, and on campus unless there is a mandated closure from state and local authorities or meeting in person poses a health risk to students.

Your child(ren) will begin the 2020-21 academic year on campus with the expectation that specific health and safety procedures will be required.  In the event that state or local authorities close schools or initiate a stay-at-home-order, students will transition to remote learning.  More information about what on campus learning may look like can be found below in the Possible Modifications to Our Physical Campus and Other Programming section. 

A blend of on campus and remote learning

Understanding the value of in-person connections, the RTF is examining various models that would allow students to have regular in-person academic and social-emotional learning while minimizing risk by limiting total time on campus.  There are many “split-schedule” models that are currently used throughout the world.  Examples of split schedules include shifted daily schedules, every other day models, every other week models, two days on and two days off, three days every second week…the list is endless. We are carefully examining the success of these models in maintaining safety while meeting our educational goals before committing to any one option.  Considerations of the various models will also take into account what is developmentally appropriate for the students – for instance, an experience that is primarily remote may be appropriate for older students, whereas the model developed for younger students may prioritize daily in-person learning.  

Harley at Home 2.0

When Harley pivoted to remote learning in the middle of March, we did so quickly and as a response to an emergency situation, and we were successful in launching a remote learning model that worked well.  In creating an option for the coming year, we will benefit from having more time to develop the Harley at Home model and from the lessons learned this year.  Any model developed will take into account the needs students have for connections with their peers and teachers, the importance of active, engaging learning activities, support for students to be able to work independently (as age-appropriate), and a more robust schedule of classes and activities, among other considerations.  In addition, we are investigating how we might offer remote learning as an option for those students whose families may be at increased medical risk.

Possible Modifications to Our Physical Campus and Other Programming

When we are able to return to campus, in-person school and our physical campus will necessarily be different in order to promote safety and health.  Some considerations may include:

  • Developing guidelines for who is allowed on campus, in the building, and for what purpose – includes students, faculty, staff, parents, and vendors
  • The use of face coverings during classes and in public gathering spaces
  • The use of outdoor spaces as fully and frequently as possible as a means to minimize exposure to the virus, including the possible use of large tents as shelter from the elements
  • Designated traffic flow within halls, bathrooms for specific cohorts, the possibility of teachers traveling to classrooms (in contrast to students changing locations for different classes) 
  • Modified schedules – both in the start and end times of school and the days of the week in which students are on campus
  • Sanitizing and cleaning processes will be increased.
  • Athletics offerings will be determined by NYSPHSAA recommendations and requirements
  • After school enrichment and extended day programming will likely be offered for students N-8
  • Extracurricular offerings, trips, etc. will be determined by evaluating the amount of risk to student/employee safety inherent in the activity and our ability to minimize that risk
  • Continued use of remote learning platforms in conjunction with in-person services (a “hybrid” approach) to keep in-person contact at safer levels in the areas of academic instruction, student activities, and more
  • Institution of capacity limits to allow for social distancing in classrooms and spaces such as the Library, Field House, Briggs Center for Civic Engagement, Gallery, and auditorium
  • Class sizes may be smaller than normal
  • Transportation may be modified to provide staggered arrival times and multiple arrival locations to limit large gatherings of students
  • Use of the lunchroom may be restricted or significantly altered
  • Modifications of programs and events in compliance with limits on crowd sizes and social distancing measures
  • Changes to campus access for visitors and parents, and the possibility for changes to in person drop-off/pick-off in the building


Additional Considerations

Harley is preparing for possible waves of interruption to on campus learning. In the event our local community experiences a spike in COVID-19 cases and an interruption of physical operations occurs, a shift to blended/remote learning will happen immediately.

Preparing Students for Return to School: Reinforcing the Current Year and Readying for the Coming Year

Summer Learning Connections – We have announced the launch of Summer Learning Connections (SLC), a complimentary program for Harley students that will take place this summer and is meant to help them continue with their academic progress, and—equally important—to facilitate social/emotional connection and learning.


SLC is being offered in two sessions.  Session I is from June 15 to July 3 and is offered to current (2019-2020) Nursery, Lower School and Middle School students.  Session II is from July 20 to August 29 and is offered to all students enrolled for the 2020-21 academic year.


There will be additional ways parents can help prepare students for the return to school. More information will be shared over the course of the summer. 

Professional Development: Building Our Teachers’ Capacities

Harley has made strides in the past several years in its professional development program, and our teachers are to be credited with making a rapid shift from in-person learning to a remote setting.  As well, they have continued to undertake additional training to develop their skills as they have taught remotely.  That said, in order to be prepared for all scenarios, we plan to hold professional development before the start of the school year in the following areas:

  1. Safety, Health, and Wellness, including education on safety protocols and trauma-informed practices
  2. Instructional Practices – for remote learning and multiple modalities; includes teaching and learning practices that would work in-person or remotely
  3. Functionality of On-line Course Management/Provision – Schoology, Google Classroom, Video Conferencing, Blackbaud, etc.
  4. Creating Content, Methods of Feedback, and Assessments for a digital platform – via digital tools 

Do you have additional questions or concerns about our plans for returning to school?

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