Election tensions cause temporary shift to HM Online


Yin Fei and Purvi Jonnalagadda

The school decided to conduct Upper Division (UD) and Middle Division (MD) classes remotely on Tuesday and Wednesday due to potential Election Day commotion. 

On Monday afternoon, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly sent an email to the school informing the community of the decision. In the email, Kelly cited disruptions in travel as his main worry. Specifically, protests and a surge of riders on public transportation could interfere with bus routes. “Bus companies do not have alternate plans if a bus needs to evacuate prior to completing its route because of traffic or road closures,” he wrote. “We do not have the ability to tell buses to turn around and come back to campus because we cannot safely house large numbers of students after hours in our communal spaces.”

The idea to close campus first emerged on Sunday, when there were reports of numerous intentional road blockages, Kelly said. Over the weekend, in one of many incidents, Trump supporters blocked the Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge in New York, which caused heavy traffic. 

According to Head of Upper Division Dr. Jessica Levenstein, Kelly decided to be especially cautious, recalling the snowstorm two years ago that left school buses stuck in traffic with no backup plan for hours. “The nightmare vision [Kelly] had was that a school bus on the Major Deegan would find itself surrounded again and would be halted for hour after hour with parents unable to get to those kids,” Levenstein said.

Along with fears of election chaos, several residences and businesses began to board up, which furthered Kelly’s urgency to close the campus for the two days.

Before finalizing the decision, Kelly consulted members of the Administrative Council, the school’s bus companies, and local law enforcement. The officers of the Board of Trustees and the full Board were also made aware of the concern and potential outcomes, Kelly said. “While this may have appeared to be an abrupt decision to some, we are constantly thinking about how our kids and employees get to and from school every day.”

While remote, MD followed the HM Online 2.0 schedule and the UD followed their in-person schedule. 

Levenstein helped to finalize the schedule on Monday morning after meeting with the UD Deans, who discussed the pros and cons of holding A through H classes or following the HM Online schedule, she said. They came to the conclusion that it would be best to have the full schedule, with a few modifications like no advisory and an option for teachers to alter their class plans, she said. 

“HM Online involves less class time, with no class on Wednesday, and it felt like we actually needed to have some class on Wednesday from a community standpoint,” Levenstein said.

Kelly said this choice was also made because shifting to HM Online 2.0 would have entailed omitting classes that the school felt were important to include.

Although the school reopened on Thursday, Kelly wrote that the school never stopped thinking about the possibility of extending the closure; the administration continued to monitor potentially violent activity in the tri-state area, he said.