Headmaster's Letter


Updated December 11, 2020

Reopening Plan for the 2020-21 Academic Year

Dear Members of the BWL Community:

In this updated version of our School’s reopening plan, new building procedures and safety protocols have been included. The Birch Wathen Lenox School has mapped out a schedule that provides alternating learning blocks during the academic calendar for the Lower School (Kindergarten through Fifth Grade) and the Sixth Grade, and the Middle and Upper Schools (Seventh through Twelfth Grade).

In order to utilize the building and keep social distancing requirements in place, the school year will begin with Lower School students and the Sixth Grade coming to school in person through Friday, October 30. Middle and Upper School students will remain at home during this period, and will resume “BWL Online”—our distance learning curriculum that was launched shortly after New York City’s independent schools closed in March.

Lower School students, Sixth Grade students, and faculty in those divisions will have access to the entire school building during the beginning of the fall, allowing for reduced class sizes to comply with the guidelines, and more than adequate social distance seating between students. The cohorts in each classroom will be limited to 6 to 8 students at all times to avoid student and faculty exposure to Covid-19. We have installed desk shields in all classrooms and offices.

All instructional areas will be set up with cameras to facilitate hybrid learning. We have upgraded internet access and doubled our bandwidth to prepare for the extra network traffic created by distance learning and have added new devices and screens as needed, including an 86-inch interactive screen in our “Commons” (formerly the school’s cafeteria, now repurposed to become instructional space with social distancing).

On Tuesday, November 3, all Middle and Upper School students and faculty in Grades 7 through 12 will return to the building, while the Lower School students and Sixth Grade students will return home and resume the BWL Online distance learning curriculum.

Middle and Upper School students in Grades 7 through 12 and faculty in those divisions will then have full access to the building until our two-week winter vacation beginning on Friday, December 18, with the exception of Thanksgiving weekend.

Assuming that the alternating plan with learning blocks as outlined does not change significantly due to school closures imposed by the New York State Department of Health or the city's government, the schedule for early 2021 is as follows:

From Monday, January 4 through Friday, January 29, the Lower School and Sixth Grade students and faculty will return to the building, while the Middle and Upper School students and faculty in Grade 7 through Grade 12 will return home and resume the BWL Online distance learning curriculum.

On Monday, February 1, Middle and Upper School students in Grades 7 through 12 will return to the buildingwhile the Lower School and Sixth Grade students and faculty will return home and resume distance learning until Friday, February 26

On Monday, March 1 the Lower School and Sixth Grade students and faculty will return to the building until Spring Vacation, which begins on Monday, March 22. 

Covid-19 testing will be required for students, faculty and staff who will be returning to the building in January, as well as those who return on February 1. The updated calendar for our hybrid plan through the remainder of the academic year (from Monday, April 5 until the last day of school) will be finalized in January. 

Building set-up and safety protocols:

When students and faculty members arrive each morning, the security staff will take their temperature using a special "contactless" thermometer. Polycarbonate shields have been installed in the lobby. All students and faculty must stay home if they are ill. We have added an isolation area near the nurse’s office where students will wait if they are being sent home for any suspected illness. We have hired additional nursing staff, in order to allow for care of students waiting to be sent home from the isolation area if they become ill during the school day. The classroom cameras allow the classroom activity to be broadcast home for the benefit of students and faculty who are ill during their designated in-person calendar segment. Families may request that their children remain at home for continuous distance learning if they have a specific medical condition that will make it unsafe for them to come to school.

We have upgraded the ventilation systems throughout the building, installing air conditioners with filtration systems using bipolar ionization air purifiers, with HEPA filters and UV sanitizing lights and MERV filters, to mitigate the airborne spread of the Covid-19 virus. This upgrade is considered to be hospital quality and state of the art.

Students and faculty must arrive at school wearing a mask. In addition, all students, faculty, and staff will receive protective face shields provided by BWL to be worn in appropriate circumstances during the school day. Hand washing protocols will be demonstrated and carried out in all grades, with additional hand sanitizer dispensers added on every floor and in all classrooms. Disinfectant fogging will take place daily and deep cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting of the building will occur at frequent intervals. We have stocked a six-month supply of cleaning and disinfectant supplies in an off-site warehouse.

Two-way foot traffic will be enforced using separate staircases, markings and signage throughout the building. Additional staffing has been put in place to monitor hallways and ensure social distancing during instruction. Arrival and dismissal times will be staggered within each designated learning block to create smaller student and faculty cohorts.

Lunch will be served in the classroom in grades K through 8, including a hot and cold option, with no salad bar. Upper School students in grades 9 through 12 will be offered “Buy As You Go” service.

Parents, alumni and visitors cannot enter the building unless they have a pre-arranged appointment. All meetings will be conducted virtually or by telephone, including faculty and administrative meetings. The security desk will have a list of visitors, and “drop-ins” will not be permitted. While this may seem inconsistent with BWL's welcoming philosophy, it is essential that everyone be mindful of this rule. If and when the city's restrictions regarding social distancing change, we will reevaluate this policy.

Specific questions about classroom management should be directed to the appropriate divisional director.

We are in deliberations about how extracurricular athletics will take shape over the 2020-21 academic year, given social distancing requirements and the need to coordinate with independent school athletic leagues.

The proposed educational paradigm of alternating in-person calendar segments should allow all three divisions to spend the same amount of time in the building. In the event that the government delays reopening dates or closes schools across the city, the BWL Online distance learning program will continue in all three divisions. We are confident that our BWL Online curriculum continues to provide academic excellence in all grades.

Independent schools will respond to the current challenges in various ways, based on many factors (building size, location of campus, age range of students). Our plan gives each age group the chance to connect socially for two-month learning blocks, before students are required to shift to distance learning.The equal time intervals should also provide flexibility in terms of vacation and travel plans, with some parents likely to continue working from home. BWL's plan has been made with input from the city’s Office of Emergency Management and the Department of Health, as well as NYSAIS. Our goal, first and foremost, is the safety of the students, faculty, administration, staff and parents in the BWL community.


Frank J. Carnabuci III
, Head of School

Frank Carnabuci Jr. III

Mr. Carnabuci has been the Head of School at The Birch Wathen Lenox School since 1992. In addition to his administrative duties, he has taught a Political Union course, and a course on Protocol. He is currently teaching an Honors English course called The Outsider in Literature. He established the School’s Swimming, Squash and Lacrosse teams, created the STEM Initiative and the Archaeology curriculum, and developed the Overseas Studies and Peer Relations programs. Most recently appointed to the council board of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, he has also served on the governing boards of the Rippowam Cisqua School, The Brick Church School and Drew University.