Dear Riverside Military Academy Community,
Your letters, emails, calls, and texts of gratitude and support in recent days continue to inspire us to press on during this challenging period. Many of you refused to accept the offered refund and, instead, redirected your portion to RMA for use toward a family in greater need. Still others of you have already indicated your commitment to enroll in summer and fall programs. Your decision reflects your dedication to the continuing development of your sons as leaders of character prepared to excel in college and life. We are thankful.
It is toward that end – your continued commitment to RMA – that I write to you today. I want to provide you information while I seek information from you in return. Understandably, this letter will generate much concern and discussion. Based upon the scores of communications I have received from you, it is clear that any decisions made will certainly not please all of you. I have considered your comments, cadet feedback, fiscal considerations, governmental and accreditation requirements and more informing the following information.
Bottom lines upfront:
- Commencement is being rescheduled for early August on campus;
- Traditional RMA summer programs will be altered or cancelled for this year;
- Enrollment contracts for Fall/Spring ’20-’21 should be available around May 12th;
- RMA’s business model is being altered to allow for a more robust refund program to reduce family financial risk;
- The campus should reopen for Fall semester instruction in early to mid-July;
- L.E.A.D. Academy is cancelled and those families who have paid will be 100% refunded;
- Leadership, Raider and athletic camps will either become integrated into the daily schedule or potentially cancelled;
- Health/safety considerations will affect decisions concerning the cadet weekly schedule;
- Cadet availability to leave on weekends or have visitors may be impacted by prevailing pandemic safety requirements;
- RMA will continue to meet State of Georgia and SAIS academic accreditation/credit standards;
- Parents of underclassmen, your participation in the attached survey will greatly influence when our programs resume and how they will unfold throughout the coming year.
***** Please read below very carefully for details.
Please direct your questions to the Office of the President.
Due to current local and state restrictions as well as a desire to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection, the 16 May 2020 commencement is postponed. Based upon the survey results from the graduating seniors, an on-campus event is tentatively scheduled for either Saturday 8/1 or Saturday 8/8. Most every year some graduates cannot attend commencement due to family or athletic conflicts, therefore, any date we select will not ensure 100% participation. Early August, selected by the seniors, provides time for the virus to diminish throughout the region, occurs before most report to college, and increases the likelihood that families may attend the event as social distancing/gathering size limitations are eased. We plan to live-stream commencement in any case.
RMA’s L.E.A.D summer program is canceled, and payments made for L.E.A.D. will be refunded. Additionally, we have cancelled all external facility lease contracts in order to negate the presence of thousands of non-RMA youth residing on campus through external summer camp programs. We will use this time for deep sanitizing of the barracks, dining facilities, athletics, and academic areas and conduct cadet room repairs.
Leadership and Raider Camps:
These camps will occur but likely NOT in the same format or timing as last year. Our current planning is for all cadets to return on or about the same date, begin academic instruction as quickly as possible, and integrate these two camps into the daily and weekend schedule (more to follow.) The date that all cadets will be expected to return will depend heavily upon YOUR RESPONSE TO THE SURVEY (see link below) as well as local conditions and risk.
Just yesterday, I corresponded with the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) that governs our competitive varsity athletic programs. Currently, GHSA has canceled all interscholastic athletic activities throughout the state. GHSA cannot provide any guidance about whether programs will be allowed to begin this fall, does not have an estimate of when they will make such a decision, and what rules governing spectator attendance and health safety restrictions will be enforced if they do restart.
Accordingly, it is unclear if any fall interscholastic sport competitions will occur and which, if any, sport camps will occur. There is a strong likelihood that the number of sports available at RMA will be reduced or potentially eliminated for the coming year. At this time, RMA does not envision any cadets (athletes or others) being allowed to return to campus for any reason prior to early July.
Barracks Life and Security:
After the summer deep disinfecting activities, enhanced and expensive facility disinfection protocols are being contracted. Considerable medical equipment has been ordered to include infrared thermometers for twice-daily temperature checks; masks and other personal protection equipment for infirmary personnel/patients; medications; additional training; and disinfectants. Hand sanitizer disbursing devices are now found throughout the campus. We will be as prepared as we can reasonably be to ensure the health and safety of your cadets.
Over 150 new digital, motion-activated cameras were recently installed to enhance security and to provide a long-lasting record in cloud storage servers. A new security vehicle and patrols assist us in accounting for all cadets at all times while simultaneously keeping unauthorized visitors off of campus. Authorized visitors/vendors are screened and enter through a single access point. RMA enacted many of these protocols in March, and we have experienced only one confirmed isolated case of COVID-19 despite outbreaks in our city and county. That one patient has fully recovered and was medically cleared.
Return to Campus:
As we make plans for a return to on-campus living and learning for the fall, we are currently consulting with health officials and national educational associations to collect best practices concerning the reopening when cadets from 24 states and 25+ countries attempt to return. Similarly, we are examining how we will allow access to non-boarding local students on a daily basis.
While my primary focus remains to provide a safe, secure and healthy environment in which cadets may be educated, I must assume that every parent/guardian’s goal is for their cadet to ultimately earn a high school diploma. Institutional accreditation standards require us to provide a requisite number of contact hours in specific academic courses within the curriculum, be it in an RMA campus classroom or digitally/online elsewhere. In short, the task is to provide a healthy environment and achieve contact hours as quickly as possible prior to the potential return of COVID-19 this fall/winter to the region or even to our campus.
RMA is examining a potential six-day/week on-campus academic schedule and an early (July 5 or later) opening in order to take advantage of any lull in the virus. Historically, RMA provided many decades of Saturday classes and required all cadets to remain on campus without departure until the winter holiday break in late December. (Yes, classes were actually run on Thanksgiving Day!) If we attempt this route, students will remain on campus and there will be no visitors/families allowed. Basically, we would continue the successful self- isolation process we practice on campus now.
The goal of this option would be to deliver as much on-campus instruction as possible before closure is possibly required. Should the virus not return, we would have options of an extended winter or spring break, or an early completion of the school year. Rest assured, RMA prefers delivering our educational program completely within our walls, but the virus and government rules represent challenges beyond our control.
We are prepared to transition back to improved digital learning/delivery should conditions require. Unlike most public schools, our transition to digital learning in March went very well as reported by parents who have both RMA cadets and public-school students in their home. We continue to train to perfect our teaching method, teacher competency, and ZOOM internet security. Many teachers volunteered to join a year-long “Master Teacher” program to enhance all aspects of their teaching skills.
NOTE: If on-campus instruction is again interrupted, 100% of all cadets will be required to leave campus without exception. Unlike this academic year, there will be no petition to remain on campus.
Contracts and Refunds:
We fully recognize you are facing challenges on your home-front and in your fiscal affairs. RMA and its 150+ employees face similar challenges as we are a private and federally recognized 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Just as you are likely resetting your financials preparing for an uncertain year(s) ahead, so too, is RMA. Based upon the information you provide us through this letter’s survey, we will rewrite our vendor, faculty, and staff contracts in such a way as to ensure that RMA will be able to reduce expenses immediately should another interruption of on-campus educational delivery occur. This will allow us to provide larger and predictable refunds to you.
Accordingly, we are rewriting our enrollment contracts, and a separate refund policy will be provided that depicts the size of the refund based upon the amount of instruction completed on campus. In order to provide you increased refund amounts, we will shutter buildings and pass savings along, in the event campus is closed. Since our contracts were fixed for the current (’19-’20) year, we were not able to recoup savings to pass along to you beyond food and laundry.
In order to build a business model that provides RMA the necessary flexibility while maximizing the efficiencies of scale, I need the best possible estimate of Fall 2020 headcount. The attached non-binding survey asks the likelihood of the enrollment of your son(s) for the upcoming fall semester, your earliest possible start date, and your willingness to support six-day instruction and restriction of your cadet to campus until winter break without visitation. Of course, if the current (or future) pandemic situation improves, we will relax our self-isolation protocols and consider returning to five-day academic schedules, should we indeed begin six-day instruction.
We request to know no later than Friday, May 8, 2020 of your intentions regarding the enrollment of your son(s) at RMA for the fall programs (residential or commuting), as well as any changes in your need for financial support. Unlike past years when your enrollment decisions could be made at the last minute, this year we must align our programs and staffing to precisely match demand. We will not build excess capacity into the business model to serve late decisions to enroll. We will build only to the level of known commitment.
Attached is a link to a short survey that solicits the information we need from parents of underclassmen to tailor the scope of RMA’s programs. It is not a binding document but does allow us to rewrite our business model for the ’20-’21 academic year.
So many of you have generously commented to me on the quality and transparency of our communication with you during this crisis. I hope this letter provides insight into what RMA’s leadership is thinking and planning in order to continue to provide the best educational experience possible for your sons. I cannot speak any more plainly than to say, we need your input, but more importantly RMA needs your sons. We want to continue the good work that is resulting in their development into young men and solid citizens.
Thank you so very much for your continued support, understanding, and diligent thought in responding to this time-sensitive request. Please complete the survey and kindly reply not later than Friday, May 8, 2020 in order to preserve your cadet’s opportunity to continue his journey at Riverside Military Academy.
Very Respectfully Yours,
COL(R) Staś C. Preczewski