A Guide to Reopening NYC’s $50,000-a-Year Elite Private Schools
Students from Browning school pose for a photograph outside the elite school. (Photo: Browning Edu/website)

A Guide to Reopening NYC’s $50,000-a-Year Elite Private Schools

Editor’s Note: No city is more important to America’s economy than New York, and none has been hit harder by the coronavirus. “NYC Reopens” examines life in the capital of capitalism as the city takes its first halting steps toward a new normal.

Dalton plans to use virtual teachers on Zoom even when students are in the classroom. At Collegiate, older students will have custom-made plexiglass desk barriers they can carry around from class to class. And Horace Mann is looking to buy specially made masks for its choir.

New York City’s elite private schools can seem like a world apart in normal times, but in the age of Covid, those differences are all the more glaring. The public school system, the largest in the nation, is struggling to find a way to teach its 1.1 million students safely as it faces steep budget cuts and possible shortages of everything from teachers and nurses to protective equipment.

Its smaller and richer private schools have no such problems with money or resources. Instead, at $50,000 a year or more, these schools must contend with the demands and expectations that come with parents whose pockets are deep enough to pay the tuition.

“The reality is, there is no universal approach to reopening schools at this moment, just the best model for each school community,” Bodie Brizendine, who leads Spence, a private all-girls school on the Upper East Side, wrote to parents.

Here’s a look at how eight private schools in New York City are planning to reopen in the fall.


A Guide to Reopening NYC’s $50,000-a-Year Elite Private Schools
  • First day of school: Sept. 10
  • Size: 760 girls in grades K-12 and 140 teachers
  • Location: two buildings on East 83rd, field house on East 87th
  • Tuition: $53,990

Brearley plans to bring all students back in the fall at the same time. Its new building, opened last year and partly funded through a $100 million capital campaign, has an outdoor play space that may be converted into classrooms. Some long-serving associate teachers were made head teachers to handle the increased number of cohorts.

Students will have a designated drop-off time, though working parents can bring their kids in at 7:15 a.m. Students who can’t wear a face mask for medical reasons will be placed in distance learning. The school also hired Bank Street College to train its teachers in “trauma-responsive school routines and restorative practices” for its students.


A Guide to Reopening NYC’s $50,000-a-Year Elite Private Schools
  • First day of school: Sept. 9
  • Size: 400 boys in grades K-12 and 65 teachers
  • Location: East 62nd
  • Tuition: $54,150

The “Browning Flex” plan will have students from K-5 return to school full-time. Grades 6-8 and 9-12 will alternate weeks between in-person and remote learning. Families who’ve chosen to start with online can switch to in-person learning after Thanksgiving. Every classroom will have a Meeting Owl camera, which provides a 360-degree view, reacts to sound and focuses on whoever is speaking, so remote learners can follow along. (The school bought 45 of them; they start at $799 on the Owl Labs website.)

The school has also rented space in the nearby French Institute/Alliance Francaise to accommodate its fourth and fifth graders, where they’ll have their own private entrance manned by a member of the school’s security team. Boys from fifth grade and up can dispense with the usual blazer and tie. In the lower school, students will form 9- to 12-person pods, which will prioritize friendships. Specialty classes like music and computer science will be taught in-person over two-week periods.


A Guide to Reopening NYC’s $50,000-a-Year Elite Private Schools
  • First day of school: Sept. 8
  • Size: 661 boys in grades K-12 and 108 teachers
  • Location: 11 floors in the West 60s near the Hudson River
  • Tuition: $55,900

For now, Collegiate plans to start mostly remote, with on-campus instruction reserved for its youngest students. Then, middle school and upper grades will be phased in over the next month. But nothing’s set in stone. “In all candor, a final announcement of our reopening plan could come as late as the Labor Day weekend,” Head of School David Lourie wrote to parents on July 30.

For safety, the school has created three isolation rooms, hired a second nurse and upgraded its ventilation systems. Younger children will have a desktop plexiglass shield at their desk, and older ones will carry theirs from room to room as needed. To return to school, students will need to provide a negative Covid-19 test. Parents must complete a daily health check as the “ticket” for a child to enter the building.


A Guide to Reopening NYC’s $50,000-a-Year Elite Private Schools
  • First day of school: Sept. 9
  • Size: about 1,300 students in grades K-12 and 250 teachers
  • Location: East 91st and 89th, and a gym on East 87th
  • Tuition: $54,180

The school will start the first trimester with a mix of onsite and remote learning. All teachers, however, will conduct classes virtually. Lessons will be streamed on students’ computers, or the classroom whiteboard, using Zoom. “Specials” like chess will also be taught online.

First priority for in-school learning will go to K-4 families with “students who do not have a supervised space at home where they can attend their digital classes,” or need direct teacher support. Older students will have a chance to come to campus to “connect with each other and their teachers.” The school year may extend later into June.


A Guide to Reopening NYC’s $50,000-a-Year Elite Private Schools
  • First day of school: Sept. 8
  • Size: 1,800 students from nursery school through 12th grade and 263 teachers
  • Location: an Upper East Side townhouse, and over 18 acres in Riverdale
  • Tuition: $55,200 (fees for books, lunch, etc. not included)

Horace Mann plans to start in-person to give teachers and students a chance to get to know each other before going online, which may happen between Thanksgiving recess and mid-January. A remote option is available under certain circumstances, such as a serious preexisting medical condition, and must be approved by Aug. 24.

For safety, the school is putting a special antibacterial film on desks, handrails and doorknobs. Performances and athletics can be live-streamed. It’s also asking all students and faculty to test prior to coming to school.


A Guide to Reopening NYC’s $50,000-a-Year Elite Private Schools
  • First day of school: Sept. 9
  • Size: 685 girls in grades K-12 and 115 teachers
  • Location: a schoolhouse on East 92nd
  • Tuition: $54,750

Children in grades K-6 will go to school full-time in the fall, while older students will learn remotely on some days. On those days, they’ll have access to an off-campus study hall if they reserve a spot in advance. For anyone who has symptoms of Covid-19, there’s an isolation room in the nurse’s office equipped with a photocatalytic oxidation air purifier.

Families have to sign a “community pledge” to follow safety protocols both in and out of school. For example, if any member travels from a hot spot, the entire family must quarantine for 14 days. On the upside, school uniforms are optional this year. Instead, younger students can wear a white shirt with navy pants or leggings. For those in middle school, any navy blue or gray skirt or pants will do.


A Guide to Reopening NYC’s $50,000-a-Year Elite Private Schools
  • First day of school: Aug. 24
  • Size: 1,200 students from pre-K through 12th grade and about 240 teachers
  • Location: 27.5 acres in the Riverdale neighborhood in the Bronx
  • Tuition: $50,045 (fees for books, lunch, etc. not included)

Riverdale starts school with all-remote classes, two weeks earlier than its usual schedule. Students will also get to spend two hours once every week on campus, which has 51 outdoor classroom tents. The schedule will help kids “get used to the new protocols and understand the new ways in which school life will work,” according to the school’s website. After Labor Day, the school will opt for a hybrid schedule or go all-remote, depending on how prevalent the virus is in the community. In-person sports competitions have been canceled for the fall.

Under the hybrid plan, half the students in the lower school will be on campus at a time, with the others using Zoom. Middle schoolers will be in two days a week, and high schoolers one or two days a week. A few students are expected to be remote all the time. The school may switch to all-remote when the flu season starts and when it becomes too cold to hold classes outside. Free protein bars are available for breakfast; lunch is “grab and go.”


A Guide to Reopening NYC’s $50,000-a-Year Elite Private Schools
  • First day of school: Sept. 8
  • Size: 750 girls in grades K-12 and 128 teachers
  • Location: Buildings on East 91st and East 93rd and one on East 90th nearing completion
  • Tuition: $57,385

Spence will start with remote learning, except for select in-person visits geared toward “community building.” Grades K-4 will have the option to start in-school in October, pending city and state directives and the school’s own risk assessment. Older students may begin going back during the winter. To maintain social distancing, libraries have been turned into classrooms and middle- and upper-school students won’t get lockers.

Because of Covid, the school is offering tuition assistance for those in need. Families have also set up an emergency fund to help faculty, staff and families. Nevertheless, Spence’s plan states it can’t guarantee that no one will be exposed or infected while at school, and cannot be held liable for exposure or infection of employees, parents, guardians, students, vendors, service providers and other visitors.

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