Dalton Parents Revolt Over Prep School’s $54,180 Online Classes

A group of parents at one of New York’s toniest private schools -- where tuition runs $54,180 a year -- is unhappy about the quality of their children’s education during the pandemic.

The Dalton School -- whose alumni include actress Claire Danes and journalist Anderson Cooper -- broke with many of the city’s private schools this fall in going with all-digital instruction until at least mid-year.

Now, after weeks of watching students stream in and out of other private school buildings, and the city’s public schools resuming in-person learning, some Dalton parents are calling for kids to get off their computers and back in the classroom.

Dalton Parents Revolt Over Prep School’s $54,180 Online Classes

“We are, in short, frustrated and confused and better hope to understand the school’s thought processes behind the virtual model it has adopted,” a group of about a dozen parents describing themselves as physicians wrote in a letter to the head of school last week, a copy of which was seen by Bloomberg. “Please tell us what are the criteria for re-opening fully in person. Covid-19 is not going away and waiting for that to happen is misguided.”

Many schools around the country have been reluctant to return to in-person education over concerns about teachers and students getting sick. Still, remote education also poses risks of children falling behind, both academically and socially. And writing big tuition checks for what is essentially home instruction only adds to parents’ frustration -- as well as their determination.

A petition signed by more than 70 lower-school parents asking for the return of on-campus classes also began circulating over the weekend. “Zoom-school is not Dalton,” they wrote.

Sore Point

In both cases, the fact that other private schools are open for classroom learning -- either full-time or on a hybrid model -- is a sore point.

“From our understanding, several of our peer schools are not just surviving but thriving,” the physician letter states.

“Our children are sad, confused and isolated, questioning why everyone around them gets to go to school when they do not,” the lower-school parents wrote in their petition.

Jim Best, the head of school, told the physicians he wants to work with them on a reopening plan for Dalton’s 1,300 students and 250 teachers, according to one of the parents, who asked not to be identified.

“We welcome and appreciate the perspective of these parents, as well as every parent and member of our community,” a spokesperson for the Upper East Side school said Monday in a statement.

Spence, Horace Mann

Spence, an all-girls K-12 school also on the Upper East Side, last week reversed its all-remote learning policy following complaints from parents. On Wednesday, Head of School Bodie Brizendine wrote to parents that in-person instruction would resume on Oct. 14 for the lower school, and Oct. 26 for the middle and upper schools on a hybrid schedule.

Dalton Parents Revolt Over Prep School’s $54,180 Online Classes

Spence plans to outfit its “lovely, but small” classrooms with new furniture and technology to accommodate social distancing, Brizendine said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg.

A spokesperson for Spence didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Efforts to resume in-school learning may be too late as colder weather arrives. On Sunday, New York reported its sixth-consecutive day of 1,000 infections or more and Mayor Bill de Blasio said he’d close schools in Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods where the virus is surging for two weeks starting Wednesday. Governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday moved the closings up by one day.

Horace Mann, a private school in the Bronx that opened in person in early September, had its first employee test positive for Covid over the weekend, Head of School Thomas Kelly said in an email. School will be closed Monday and reopen Tuesday, with one student and two other teachers in quarantine.

The employee caught the virus at a family event off campus, Kelly said in an email. After the Thanksgiving recess, the school plans on moving to remote learning through the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Kelly said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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