The gold-backed letter sent out by Haverford Headmaster Dr. John Nagl on March 20, 2020 felt like a gut punch for many students. The letter detailed how Haverford would comply with Governor Tom Wolf’s Order to remain closed until further notice.
For some, the letter was inevitable, perhaps even late. Others wondered if Nagl acted too early with the decision to close the campus with little prior communication about how the decision-making process.
“We have a leadership team that runs the school, which includes myself, the heads of the divisions, and various other community members,” Dr. Nagl said. “That group has been meeting every day with the addition of Ms. Drinkwine.”
This leadership team met every day long before the governor’s Thursday, March 12 memorable press release in which Wolf provided “guidance to reduce the spread of the virus in the state.” In that press release, Wolf wrote, “Schools in Montgomery County will be closed starting tomorrow, as will child-care centers licensed by the Commonwealth.”
The school insists the administration was already preparing for distance learning prior to the governor’s order.
Dr. Nagl said, “We were making preparations for it and having conversations about what online school might look like. As the possibility became more likely, we made the decision to cancel parent teacher conferences which were scheduled for that Friday [March 13] and instead to have a faculty development day to discuss how we would go about conducting online school. As it turned out, the governor ordered us to close the day before those meetings.”
Nagl likened the decision to close school for the virus to the decision to call a snow day.
“The single most important factor in calling a snow day is whether Lower Merion School District has called a snow day because if I tell you to come to school on a day when the township told you to stay home and you crash, then the school is liable,” Dr. Nagl said.” It’s the same with the virus and the governor’s office.”
Nagl explained how what felt like an abrupt halt to daily procedure was actually well within the administration’s contingency plan.
“We decided to do a pilot of virtual Haverford for two days the week before spring break then take spring break to refine it and continue development with faculty. We think it went pretty well, given that virtual education is no fun.”
After the press conference announcing the closure of Montgomery County schools, many felt blindsided, as though it were not inevitable. Dr. Nagl debunked this idea.
“We pretty much knew it was going to happen, but the one thing I was hoping was that we could get through the weekend and get the play off. We would not have met in person the following week,” Dr. Nagl said.
Following the release of the golden letter, many interpreted it as the school being closed for the rest of the year. During the interview, Dr. Nagl said“We’re closed indefinitely with no end date, if the governor announces we can go back tomorrow morning, we’ll be on campus that afternoon”, however, the following day, April 8th, Governor Wolf announced that schools would remain closed for the rest of the semester.
So when will this end then? Nagl gave a grim prediction, saying “We are in virtual Haverford to slow the spread of a disease no one has an immunity to, when will that change? When we have a vaccine. Vaccines take at the very least a year to create. The virus was sequenced in mid-January 2020, which takes us to January 2021. But that’s just when we have the vaccine we then need 8 billion people to take the vaccine and produce enough for eight billion people.”
Many schools picked dates to “reopen,” however unlikely, while Haverford has forgone making such empty promises. This is essentially the only difference between the way Haverford is dealing with the situation and how the rest of the schools in the area chose to do it.
Nagl assured the class of 2020 that they would not say their final goodbyes in a virtual classroom.
“We are not going to let that happen, commencement is magic and you deserve it,” Dr. Nagl said. “We are going to do it, it’s just a question of when.”