Exeter’s COVID-19 Response

How virtual spring unfolded.

Adam Loyd
April 29, 2020
An image of the Academy Building on a computer screen

On March 18, Principal Bill Rawson ’71; P’08 informed the Exeter community that spring term would be conducted entirely through online learning, an extraordinary step necessitated by the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak worldwide.

In a letter and video message to students, parents, faculty and staff, Rawson said the difficult decision was “compelled by the current public health crisis, by our need to keep you and our community safe, and by our obligation to do our part not to contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.”

“As eager as we are to have our students return to their classes, practices, rehearsals and friends, we cannot do that until we are sure it is safe for them and all members of our community.”

On the same day, Rawson announced in a letter to alumni that reunions scheduled for May would be postponed until September. 

The decisive action was taken as it became clear to Academy leadership that the crisis was only worsening across the United States and that its impact would be long-lasting. Even before winter term ended on March 6 and the Exeter community prepared to scatter across the country and around the world for a two-week break, it seemed inevitable that spring term would be unlike any other in the Academy’s 239-year history. 

Academy administrators watched as the global situation rapidly devolved and began discussing contingency plans for the remainder of the school year. School-sponsored experiential-learning trips were canceled, and the administration made lodging arrangements for international students who would be unable to travel home for the two-week break. Quarantine guidelines were put in place for those who would be returning to campus after traveling to areas with high rates of infection during the break. A campus visit program for new students accepted for the 2020-21 academic year was canceled, and employee business travel was suspended. 

The Incident Response Team, led by Principal Rawson and including deans, department heads and campus medical director Dr. Katy Lilly, met daily to discuss the latest developments from global, national and local perspectives while following guidelines put forth by the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services.

On March 11, Rawson informed the campus community that the start of spring term would be delayed. A week later, it became apparent that any resumption of a regular term was impossible. 

Faculty and staff coordinated efforts to accommodate online learning. Providing an equitable experience was essential and the Academy worked to ensure that all students would have the resources necessary to participate virtually. The plan called for traditional Harkness discussions to be modified with students and instructors meeting online using a videoconferencing program. 

In an email to students, Dean of Students Brooks Moriarty ’87 acknowledged the challenges presented by the unprecedented situation and made students aware that the term would be graded on a “pass/no-pass basis.” Considering the time-zone differences for students now spread around the world, Moriarty laid out a weekly schedule and guidelines for class participation. Moriarty explained that students are to have three weekly “touchpoints” with instructors, which he defined as attendance during the scheduled class time, a one-on-one conference with an instructor, or “engagement with or contribution to a class activity at a time of the student’s choice, other than the scheduled class time.”

Most affected by alteration of the spring term is the graduating class of 2020. In his video address to the students, Principal Rawson highlighted the class, saying the seniors have “had a remarkable impact on our school” and that he hopes to find a way to have the class come together one last time before departing from Exeter.

Rawson closed his message with a call for unity among the students in the days and weeks ahead: “Let’s do everything we can to stay connected, even as we learn to build community apart.”

Spring detour

When members of the class of 2020 learned they would not be returning to campus for their senior spring term, they turned to Instagram to commiserate. They expressed sorrow and frustration and anger — but the most common messages were those of gratitude and love. For each other. For their instructors. For the school and community that changed their lives. Jill Cloonan’s words represented her classmates’ prevailing sentiments: “Exeter allowed me to meet some of the most impressive and beautiful people I will ever encounter in my life. ... Hopefully, we are all able to see each [other] soon and have a proper end to this wonderful chapter.”

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I never imagined I would have to say goodbye to this place so soon. I’ve loved Exeter since the day I stepped on campus, and I am forever grateful for this school and the people that helped make it my home. It has been the most amazing and transformative experience of my life. Here is a collection of photos commemorating my Exeter experience, excluding so many people and moments that I didn’t get on camera but I will remember forever. PEA, thank you for everything you have given me. A trip to India, a term abroad in Spain. The best dorm on campus, my home now and forever, that introduced me to some of the best people I have ever known. Loving faculty that became my friends and mentors, and the very best friends I’ve ever had that became family. I love you all so much, and we will meet again some day soon. And to the students that are able to return next year — hold on to every day you have left at this place, you’ll never find anywhere quite like it :)

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