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The Gordon School

Fall 2021: Strong foundations, new possibilities

Last year, Gordon students had a joyful, safe year on campus filled with powerful learning and deep connections with their teachers and classmates. Under extraordinary circumstances, this community rallied to care for one another. The school's guiding principles held up and there was no evidence of any community spread on Gordon's campus. 

Optimism with deep roots

Gordon's approach was optimistic, but based on ideas that had deep roots in the school's history: 

Gordon's healthy origins as an "open air school" with a respect for science, health and wellness.

Gordon's natural resources, a twelve-acre living laboratory ready for year-round outdoor education.

Gordon's student-centered facilities, with ample space to welcome every student back to campus safely.

The trust and transparency that has characterized the relationship between the school and families.

This year, the school is building on last year's experience—with the same optimism, based on the same deep roots—to plan a safe, simple, well-informed approach to on-campus life. There are still many unknowns, but this community has proven that it knows how to handle uncertainty with courage and compassion.

Guiding principles for fall 2021

As Gordon planned for the return of students, families, faculty and staff to campus in September, the school's leadership was guided by the following principles:

  • We will design protocols that can assure a safe and secure learning and working environment. 
  • We will work toward achieving the maximum number of days of in-person learning for every student.
  • We will maximize what we learned from the experience and success of the 2020-2021 school year and do our best not to recreate the wheel.
  • Gordon’s decision making will be guided by the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Rhode Island Department of Education in consultation with our health and safety working group. We will be prepared to adjust protocols as circumstances evolve. We acknowledge that other schools may make different choices for their communities. 
  • Although COVID-fatigue is a real thing, our protocols will reflect that we are still in a pandemic.
  • We acknowledge the importance of supervised, joyful child care until 5:30, and the health and wellness benefits of expanded social groups and after school activities.
  • We acknowledge that the majority of our student population is unvaccinated and that one of the most effective ways to keep our community safe is for all eligible students, faculty, staff and caregivers to be fully vaccinated.

New circumstances for fall 2021

We recognize that this pandemic is not over, and it continues to evolve in ways that will require our continued vigilance. To date, the Rhode Island Department of Health and Department of Education have issued little new guidance for the fall, and many of the school's protocols and guidance build on our experiences from last year. However, a few new circumstances are allowing us new flexibility as campus reopens this September:

All of the adults who work at Gordon are vaccinated. This is an expectation of employment at Gordon this fall.

Students aged twelve and older are vaccinated. This would include most of the students in our Middle School. The health office is allowing for religious or medical exemptions in very particular circumstances.

We know more about how the virus is transmitted and the most effective ways to mitigate transmission and spread. Even with the emergence of the Delta variant, the CDC guidance is clear that universal masking indoors, distancing, screening testing, ventilation, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, and staying home when sick are the most effective prevention strategies. Eliminating shared spaces and limiting shared materials are not. 

The Department of Health's guidance on stable groups has changed. While students will still remain in stable groups, those groups can be larger than before.

Some things will be essentially the same this fall

Gordon's first and best line of defense against COVID-19 will still be to keep the virus off campus. What does that mean?

If you are sick, or possibly exposed, stay home. Faculty, staff and students will be required to fill out the safety app every morning, and they will only be allowed on campus if they are cleared by the app. New families, or new caregivers, can find instructions for downloading and using the app at

Follow the Department of Health's travel guidance. Gordon will continue to ask that families, faculty and staff observe the Rhode Island Department of Health's quarantine guidance for travel. Parents are still expected to stay aware of changes to the guidance, which will be linked at

In general, children will need to stay home more than in a “normal” year. This will be the case even as we do everything we can to maximize students’ time on campus. A comprehensive FAQ for testing and quarantining is at If students need to be home for a few days to await test results or recover from symptoms or for a more extended period because of a quarantine order, your child’s teacher and Division Director will be in touch with you to determine a plan.

Parents and caregivers will have limited access to campus. The drop off and pick up processes will limit the time that parents and caregivers are on campus. For the beginning of the school year, at least, meetings and group activities for adults will either take place outdoors or will happen over Zoom. Some will be more structured, others more social; all will offer connection and support for families and caregivers. All parents and caregivers will need to be masked while on campus during the school day regardless of vaccination status.  

Masks will be the default expectation. Proper face coverings will be required for everyone indoors, in keeping with the current state recommendation. There may be some flexibility around masks outdoors for fully vaccinated students and adults, but Gordon is waiting on more guidance from Rhode Island before making a final decision for September. 

Students will use the outdoors whenever possible. That includes the use of outdoor spaces for academic learning and free play, as well as the more practical business of traveling from one classroom to another. Interior hallways will be used, but only under limited circumstances. 

No drop-ins after school. In order to plan safe, productive, joyful experiences for students after school, we need stable rosters for our in-person after school programs. Please register for after school programs or Gators and YAP care by August 23rd at

The prepared lunch program will still be suspended, and lunch and snack will still be outdoors whenever possible, or in carefully distanced indoor spaces. Face shields, however, will no longer be necessary.

Off-campus field trips are suspended. No off-campus trips are scheduled for the fall. Students will, however, explore every inch of Gordon's twelve-acre campus every day and continue to Zoom with special guests and experts whenever possible.

Some new flexibility

Stable groups remain, but they are bigger. 

Both the Center for Disease Control and the Rhode Island Department of Education continue to recommend keeping students in stable groups while on campus. This strategy limits the number of people a student comes into contact with over the course of the day, limiting any transmission that might happen on campus and making contact tracing easier. In the event of a positive case among students, stable groupings allow us to keep the maximum number of students on campus during any quarantine.

The RIDE recommendation, however, now gives schools more flexibility in determining the size of those stable groups. Gordon's guiding principles this fall recognize the health and wellness importance of large social groups, and we are expanding the size of groupings for all students.

This fall, then, the stable grouping in Nursery to fourth grade will include the entire grade. While students will continue to learn and play primarily with their classroom group, they will be able to connect with other students in their grade as well. This allows us new flexibility with bathrooms, as well, allowing an entire grade to share facilities safely.

The stable grouping in Middle School will also default to the grade level, but the presence of vaccinated students will allow for even greater flexibility. With more than 50% of the Middle School vaccinated, grades will be allowed to learn and play together occasionally during the school day; for instance, seventh and eighth grades, where all students will be old enough for the vaccine, will be able to once again have arts electives and after school experiences together. Bathrooms in Middle School will all be open to all four grade levels.

Teachers and staff will be vaccinated

All Gordon faculty and staff will be fully vaccinated by the time students arrive on campus on September 1st. This will allow a tremendous increase in flexibility over last year, when we had to tightly control contact between teachers and students outside of their stable group. 

On the most basic level, teachers will be able to teach all of their classes in person and be freed to teach students across different grade levels. 

On an administrative level, having vaccinated adults on campus will alleviate the challenges we faced covering the duties of faculty and staff who needed to stay home. Now, more adults will be available to cover classes or supervise lunch and recess when there are absences.

In addition, fully vaccinated substitute teachers, after school music instructors, and athletic coaches will be allowed back on campus to lead in-person instruction and activities. The need to maintain stable groupings in the younger grades means that we are not bringing back special guests to teach after school enrichments in the fall, but we hope to be able to revisit this decision after Thanksgiving.

Having vaccinated adults on campus is a very big change, and the positive impact should not be underestimated. Faculty and students can safely breathe a long sigh of relief thanks to the vaccine, and enjoy new possibilities for daily learning and playing.

Adults can connect outdoors. Our community of parents, caregivers, faculty and staff is important to us, and with so many of Gordon adults vaccinated, we are ready to explore convening in-person under certain circumstances. Nursery parents will be gathering outdoors at Gordon in late August, for instance, as will the parents of new Middle School students, and family members will be welcome at outdoor athletics games in the fall.

Using the campus

This map (see enlarged file) shows the indoor spaces where each grade will be located for the 2021-22 school year. We’re pleased that we will be able to return to regularly using shared spaces like the library, theater, and the art, music and Spanish rooms. Community spaces on the map are large indoor spaces where, because of size and ventilation, it will be possible to bring different grades together for meetings or activities. Flexible classrooms provide the opportunity for students to have another indoor classroom outside of their dedicated classroom (e.g., having visual arts in one of the art studios).

Students will still rely on the outdoors to travel across the campus. When their class needs to leave their classroom, they will go outside and travel on the one-way Gator Path to the room they need to enter.