Classes canceled for week of March 9 amid coronavirus concerns

Logan Schiciano and Michelle Wei

9:36 p.m., Sun., March 8: A K-12 Alert informed The Masters School community that the final week of school before break was cancelled. At 10:44 p.m., Head of School Laura Danforth followed up with an email  explaining that classes would be cancelled “out of an abundance of care.” 

According to Danforth’s email on March 8, “Please know that, as of this writing, there are no known cases of COVID-19 in the Masters community.”

The day before, on Saturday, March 7, the school decided to cancel their previous plans to host international students who could not return home because of the coronavirus. Instead, Director of Global Studies and Civic Engagement Dr. Rob Fish said in an email that there will be host families available for boarders. Read more about the coronavirus’ effect on boarders on page 2. 

All school-sponsored spring break plans to travel had been cancelled as of Friday, March 6, including a golf trip to Florida, a Model United Nations trip to Washington D.C. and a trip to Peru. 

Masters is one among many schools in Westchester to close because of coronavirus. Masters, along with The Harvey School and Iona College, is closing the week preceding its scheduled spring break. Some schools closed last week and will remain closed this week, such as Westchester Day School in Mamaroneck, Westchester Torah Academy in White Plains, the Salanter Akiba Riverdale (SAR) Academy and SAR High School in Riverdale, the Bronx. Additionally, beginning on March 9, all Scarsdale public schools will be closed through March 18 and East Ramapo Central School District schools will be closed through March 21. Other public schools including Hastings-on-Hudson, Somers Central School District, Mount Pleasant Cottage School Union Free School District, Annunciation School and Mt. Vernon schools are (or were) closed for one or two days for deep cleaning.  

As of March 9, there are 142 cases of coronavirus in New York State, 98 of which are in Westchester County. However, new information on the coronavirus (COVID-19) can emerge at any time and The Masters School has been bracing for what Danforth called a “low-probability, high-prep” scenario.

Regarding her decision to close the school, Danforth explained, “My colleagues on the COVID-19 task force and I have come to this decision given the rapidly increasing number of COVID-19 cases in our area,” in the email sent on March 8. 

Danforth first introduced the coronavirus task force, which is made up of 11 faculty members, to the Upper School in a speech at morning meeting on March 5. She shared that they have been meeting daily for two weeks to make plans to handle COVID-19 related problems.

In her speech, Danforth said, “I want to make informed decisions based on facts not fear. We’re all going to experience levels of anxiety, I know I do, but I want to make sure this campus is kept clean and safe.” She explained that because the news on COVID-19 is changing every moment, the school has to be flexible. 

“It’s on the forefront of my mind 24 hours a day and there is nothing else right now that is more important to me,” Danforth said.

Senior Zeynep Ozturk said she appreciated the clarity that Danforth, Head of School Peter Newcomb and Fish provided in their speech address to the school.

Ozturk said, “For once, I felt like they were being open and actually talking to us like they were our peers.” 

Fish, who also spoke at the meeting, provided insight on why schools shut down. 

He said, “There are two reasons…One is to protect everyone else if someone in the community has been exposed to the virus. The other reason is because they [schools] want to slow down the spreading of the disease and keep everything under control.”

In the event that school did need to be suspended for a period of time, Danforth said in an email sent to the community on March 4 that a contingency plan for continued learning would be put into place. Danforth also advised students to take all their textbooks and supplies home during spring break. 

Google will be making its Google Meet software available for free to schools to use during COVID-19 closures. Danforth said in an email sent to the Masters community on March 4, “Our division heads and department chairs are working to adjust our curriculum for remote teaching and learning and are exploring all viable options with our technology department. They are also working with our teachers to train them and set realistic expectations for both faculty and students.”

Faculty from both the Upper and Middle Schools will meet on campus on Tuesday, March 10 for an all-day training on using Google Meet and other online technology for distance teaching, should it be needed after the break. 

Fish explained that COVID-19 is only dangerous to a small portion of those who contract it.

He said, “Almost everyone listening to my voice, if you were to catch this, you would show little or no symptoms. For most of you, this is not a huge personal concern.”

Nevertheless, Newcomb, who was the third member of the task force to speak, asked that students be conscious of each individual’s situation. 

“There are members of our community who are at a heightened risk. Let’s be mindful of how we speak about this because things can resonate differently with different people,” he said. 

Ozturk, who is an international boarder from Istanbul, Turkey took precautionary measures as she flew back to Turkey on Thursday evening and will presumably stay there through spring break. 

She said, “Although there are no cases back home in Turkey, my parents don’t want me to be stuck here [in America] if there’s a travel ban.”

Newcomb emphasized in his speech to the Upper School,  “Please don’t panic… Be mindful of asking questions; we’re all here to help… Thank you all for taking care of each other.”

NOTE: Information accurate as of upload time at 11 p.m. on March 9.