2020 Sparhawk Reopening Decision

Louise Stilphen

Dear Parents,

I know you are all awaiting word on our decisions about re-opening. I don’t have to tell you that we have a nearly impossible dilemma. As you have seen from previous correspondences, we have been working daily on constructing several reopening plans all summer. We have researched many options, consulted with outside experts, listened to parents and teachers who have expressed their views, and debated amongst ourselves. In the end, we have come to a decision that reflects our grave responsibility. 

We have decided to start school on time, on September 9th, but we will delay our return to campus. We believe this is the wisest decision because it provides the greatest measure of safety for all of our precious community members. If all the public data* supports it, we will return to a very exciting outdoor campus on October 13th, three weeks after the start-date Governor Baker suggested for opening public schools on campus.

I know this is not what many of you want to hear. At the same time, I know this decision provides a sense of relief for many others. We are concerned about disappointing our children and their families, nevertheless we feel a great weight of responsibility and believe that our only choice is to prioritize safety in the face of the great unknown of Covid-19, just as we do in the face of any potential risk.  

Why this decision? 

First, we don’t know the level of exposure our Sparhawk community members will have unknowingly had over the summer. Perhaps, for example, from inadvertent contact with people traveling from outside of our relatively safe states, or from contact at Labor Day Weekend events, all of which increase exposure. This weekend the CDC and other experts note some troubling preliminary signs of an uptick in numbers in MA that may worsen for these very reasons. 

Secondly, school openings have not universally gone well, here or internationally, even where the number of cases were very low before school started as they are in MA and NH now.

Examples we have considered include:

In Israel, against the recommendations of epidemiologists, they opened schools after a two-month-long lockdown; on that day they had only 10 new cases in the entire nation of 9m people. Within one month, in cases-per-million, Israel’s numbers rose to nearly those of the U.S. with only Brazil surpassing them.

Camps, concerts, parties and even on-site teacher trainings in our own country have resulted in an uptick in cases, not only among the attendees, but it spread throughout the communities those people lived in – before they knew they were carriers. 

With these examples and so many others in mind, we have concluded that it is prudent to take the time to discover whether or not the number of cases in Amesbury and surrounding towns rise once school is back in session. We will wait rather than unnecessarily risk the health and safety of any Sparhawk’s members. If we are wrong and all goes smoothly, we will celebrate; if it turns out that our cautions were warranted, we will join hands, virtually, and continue with learning from home until we can safely be together again.

Our teachers have worked tirelessly to be prepared with curriculum that can be used online and in person. They are dedicated to building community and inspiring curiosity while providing an exceptional educational experience for your child whether it be on campus or online. You will hear more from the directors next week. 

In the everyday world of school before the pandemic, I would never knowingly have made a choice that contained even the slightest risk to any member of the Sparhawk community. You expect that of me, of us. Here we are, still in the midst of one of the worst pandemics the world has ever seen. It will not last forever, however, the consequences for the wrong choice can be forever. I would cancel a field trip if there were even a possibility that the roads were going to be icy; the risks in our current circumstances call for care beyond any measure we have ever faced before. Please support our caution. I see no other choice. 

Sincerely yours,



Louise Stilphen

Sparhawk School Headmaster & Founder


* Sparhawk School will be monitoring the Covid-19 cases in Essex County and Rockingham County using publicly-sourced data through Covid ActNow (www.covidactnow.org), a “multidisciplinary team of technologists, epidemiologists, health experts, and public policy leaders working to provide disease intelligence and data analysis on Covid.” We will be working with our local and state Departments of Health and assessing this data daily. If the infection rate exceeds the “positivity rate” of 4.9% (per Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/testing/testing-positivity) we will continue with on-line learning.