St. Stephen's Coronavirus Information

St. Stephen's has completed the 2019-20 school year. We are looking forward to honoring the 120 students in our Class of 2020 at our Baccalaureate on Friday, Nov. 27 and Graduation on Saturday, Nov. 28.

The campus is closed to everyone except faculty, staff and members of our residential families who live on campus.

A Conversation with the Head of School and PA President

Head of School Messages

List of 27 items.

  • From The Hill - Thoughts as We Return - Feb. 21

  • Our Plans to Resume School after Spring Break - Feb. 5, 2021

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families,

    I sincerely appreciate the extraordinary effort our community has made to keep each other safe since returning from Winter Break. I am touching base to share our plans to resume school after Spring Break.
    Read More
  • Academic and Surveillance Testing Schedules for Winter Term, Plans for Return in January - Nov. 18

  • Update on Surveillance Testing and Reminder about Thanksgiving Plans - Nov. 12

  • Update on Our Surveillance Testing Program - Nov. 1

  • Update on Our Plans for School after Thanksgiving Break - Oct. 14

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families,

    This has been a great week at school, with our Upper School students joining our Middle Schoolers back on campus. While we continue to miss those students who are studying remotely, life on The Hill is starting to feel more lively. Our faculty, staff and board of trustees appreciate the patience and adaptability all of you have exhibited as we strived to resume in-person classes and programs on campus.

    Protocols, Code of Conduct and Duty to Disclose Still in Effect
    School administrators are continuing to work with our Medical Advisory Committee and Health Center team to develop a safe plan for resuming in-person classes after Thanksgiving break. We will still ask our community members to follow the same health and safety protocols, code of conduct and duty to disclose during Thanksgiving week that have been in place since the start of the school year. Students who are able to strictly adhere to those protocols will be able to resume on-campus activities on Tuesday, Dec. 1. (Monday, Nov. 30 is a Teacher In-Service Day with no classes scheduled.)

    Shorter Quarantine + Surveillance Testing
    We are finalizing a plan for those students (day and boarding) who travel on public transportation or gather in large groups lacking safety protocols over the Thanksgiving break. Their return-to-campus plan would include a combination of quarantine and surveillance testing provided by the school during the first week back from Thanksgiving break. (Please note that individuals who come in close contact with a positive COVID-19 case during the break will be required to follow the 14-day quarantine. On Wednesday, Oct. 21, the CDC issued a new definition of close contact as part of its overall COVID-19 guidelines. Close contact is now defined as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.)

    This plan is based on three assumptions: 1) Austin does not experience a significant surge in positive cases between now and Thanksgiving that results in city orders restricting in-person school programming, 2) we do not have a significant outbreak of positive cases in our school community between now and then, and 3) we are able to build sufficient surveillance-testing capacity by Thanksgiving through the smaller-scale pilot program described below.

    Cost of Surveillance Testing
    While students would not incur the costs of these surveillance tests, they would need to produce two negative test results during the first week back from Thanksgiving break in order to resume in-person activities on campus the following week of Dec. 7. The testing provider we plan to work with will be able to directly bill individual insurance companies for the costs of its tests, or bill the state for the costs in the event that an insurance provider will not cover the test.  

    Building Our Testing Capacity in the Coming Weeks
    In the coming weeks, we will work with the testing provider to implement surveillance tests on a smaller scale in hopes of building our testing capacity by Thanksgiving. This initial effort will entail conducting surveillance tests on cohorts of residential students and employees. This smaller-scale effort will give us the valuable experience and additional level of safety and assurance necessary to safely resume in-person activities on campus following the Thanksgiving break and beyond.

    In the coming weeks, we also will provide more detailed information about how the quarantine and surveillance testing program will work for the full community beginning the week of Nov. 30. For those students who have decided to continue remote learning between Thanksgiving and our December break, we will continue to support them with outstanding online programming.


    Chris Gunnin
  • Update on a Few Important Topics - Sept. 10

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families,

    I hope you all were able to enjoy some rest and relaxation over the Labor Day weekend. As we approach the end of the first week of our modified academic schedule, I want to update you on a few important topics.

    Following Up on Q&A Sessions from Last Week
    We hosted four Q&A sessions with parents last week to address questions about our safety procedures and our plan to use a phased approach to bring students back for in-person classes on campus. I sincerely appreciate those of you who were able to participate in the Q&A sessions. 

    One of the topics we discussed was the screen fatigue that students were feeling in the first two weeks of remote learning, as they participated in an 8:15 a.m.- 4 p.m. school day predominantly on Zoom. Feedback from parents confirmed our recognition of the need to transition to a different academic schedule in the event that we continued remote learning beyond Sept. 7. I appreciate the flexibility and adaptability of students, parents and faculty this week as the school implemented revised daily schedules that seek to reduce screen time and Zoom fatigue while preserving academic excellence and sustaining structure and support for students. I’ve included links here to the new Middle School schedule and the new Upper School schedule.

    We also have asked our faculty to imagine ways that we could host cohort activities for Upper School students on campus starting next week. These cohort activities would allow us to support the emotional, psychological, relational and physical health of our older students in the interim period before they are scheduled to return to campus for in-person classes on Oct. 13. While we are finalizing our plan to roll out these cohort activities, they will encompass a range of student interests — from PE/athletics, fine arts and outdoor recreation, to spiritual, academics and health. Following are key features of the cohort activities we are planning.

    • They will involve outside activities and will be scheduled after the academic day and/or on the weekend.
    • Each cohort group will be limited to 10-12 students.
    • Day students and boarding students will not be in cohort groups together.
    • Each student may only participate in one cohort group, but each cohort group may meet up to three times per week. 
    We will share more details on these activities in the coming days. Students participating in the cohort activities will be required to complete a health self-screening each time they visit campus. In addition, students and parents who have not yet signed the COVID-19 acknowledgement of risk and waiver forms in MySSES should do so as soon as possible. 
    We recognize that we did not have time to answer all the questions submitted via email. We are in the process of expanding the Path Forward FAQ webpage to address unanswered questions. If you have additional questions, please email them to and we will respond in a timely manner.

    Operational and Communications Plans for Managing Positive Cases
    Another question asked by several of our parents concerned our plans to manage positive COVID-19 cases on campus. The school has a detailed operational plan for managing positive COVID-19 cases on campus as well as a step-by-step process for communicating such cases with our employee and parent communities. The communications plan works in lockstep with our operational plan, which includes moving the impacted individual into a safe quarantine space, blocking off and cleaning any spaces that have been heavily used by the individual, as well as contact tracing to determine and notify other individuals who may been exposed to the virus through close contact with the impacted individual. For every operational step we take, there is a corresponding communications step. This includes notifying all parents and guardians via email every time we confirm a positive case in a student or an employee.

    Our communications plan meets the Texas Education Agency guidelines requiring us to notify all employees and all families of students, as well as our local health department (Austin Public Health). We will perform these notifications in accordance with confidentiality requirements dictated by law as well as our own standards of preserving privacy. 
    Announcing a New Health-Screening Service
    In our ongoing efforts to promote the safety and well-being of our school community this year, St. Stephen’s will require parents/guardians of all day students to use a new service to screen their children daily for COVID-19 symptoms and risk factors. Our Residential Life Team is conducting daily health screenings of our boarding students, and our employees are performing daily self-screenings before coming to campus. This daily screening requirement complies with state guidelines for reopening schools safely. St. Stephen’s has contracted with Ruvna, a company that specializes in school-parent-student communications to meet this health-screening need. We have sent details on this service to our 6th grade parents and will communicate with other groups/grades as they prepare to resume in-person activities on campus.

    Tapping into Two Things We Have in Common
    I would like to close by reaffirming how deeply St. Stephen’s values each and every one of you. When we make complex and difficult decisions about opening school safely, our Administrative Team, Reopening Task Force, Medical Advisory Committee and Board of Trustees are thinking of every member of our community. Every student. Every parent. Every employee. We are 1,000 community members strong, and each of us has unique situations with respect to COVID-19 — different family and work concerns, health considerations, and hopes and fears about the future.
    Despite these differences and our unique situations, we all share at least two things in common. The first is a commitment to the school’s mission: to inspire a lasting love of learning and spirit of service so that each of our students lives a life of meaning and enriches the world. The second is our deep and abiding love for our Spartans. These two foundational elements will help guide us this year as we fulfill our sacred obligation to help our children live lives of substance and meaning.
  • Welcome Back to School, Plan for Classes after Sept. 7

  • Head of School Chris Gunnin’s Remarks at Back to School Event - Aug. 24

  • Update on Plans to Start School – July 30

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families,

    In the past two weeks, we have made good progress in our preparations for the start of remote classes on August 25 and the ensuing fall term. We continue to monitor and adapt to updates from a range of national, state and local agencies, including the federal government and CDC; the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Education Agency; as well as the City of Austin and Austin Public Health. As I’m sure you all have learned by now, agility and resilience will be essential traits in navigating the school year ahead.

    I’m touching base today with a few updates related to health and safety protocols. While some of these may feel overly prescriptive, they form the basis of our shared responsibility to do everything we can to look after ourselves and each other.

    Acknowledgement of Risk
    St. Stephen’s is taking extraordinary measures to promote the safety and health of all students and employees this school year. We have reviewed these measures with our Medical Advisory Committee, which has approved our protocols and determined they are reasonable and thorough.

    Despite these efforts, St. Stephen’s cannot guarantee with absolute certainty that students and employees will not be exposed to COVID-19 on our campus. We acknowledge and ask parents and students to acknowledge that we cannot completely control every aspect of our environment and that despite all of our efforts to promote a safe and healthy environment, it is likely that students and employees will be exposed to COVID-19 cases on campus this school year. We also have developed protocols that we believe are appropriate to handle any positive COVID-19 cases on campus. 

    Code of Conduct
    We will require all students and employees to practice physical distancing, wear masks and follow other health and safety protocols, including performing a daily self-screening before engaging in campus activities. These practices will need to be performed on a daily basis until the school determines they are no longer necessary. All students and employees are also expected to comply with the current Austin Public Health guidelines and CDC guidelines when they are off campus. If a student is not willing to commit to these practices, that student should select our remote learning option for this school year. If a student does not follow our protocols, that student may face consequences up to and including being required to participate in our remote learning and living model, or separation from the St. Stephen’s community. 

    Duty to Disclose
    Students and employees also have an obligation to disclose if anyone in their family or immediate circle of contacts has come in contact with COVID-19. This could include siblings who attend other schools or parents who work in non-isolated work environments. If a family member or close contact is exposed to COVID-19 under such a circumstance, students and employees will be obligated to inform the St. Stephen’s administration so we can decide if that student/employee needs to isolate for 14 days and if we need to communicate with anyone else who may have been exposed. 

    Reminder about the Importance of Following Health and Safety Protocols
    Between June 16 and June 30, St. Stephen’s was notified by three of our employees that they were experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. As soon as we were notified, these employees began periods of isolation/quarantine off campus, and we cleaned the areas of campus that were heavily used by these employees, according to CDC guidelines. Two of the employees have just returned to work this week following appropriate isolation/quarantine periods off campus. The third employee has completed a period of isolation/quarantine off campus and is currently taking summer vacation time.

    In the cases of these three employees, St. Stephen’s adhered to the following measures, which we have developed to promote the safety of our employees and students during this pandemic.

    • Employees exhibiting symptoms are sent home immediately and/or required to remain off campus until medically cleared to return.
    • An employee who is a certified contact tracer initiates contact tracing and requires other employees in close contact with the symptomatic employee to quarantine at home. Those employees are not allowed to return to campus until they have self-quarantined for 14 days from the last date of exposure.
    • The heavily used areas in which the employees have been working are closed off and then cleaned with an electrostatic sprayer.
    • Employees who receive positive COVID-19 test results may return to campus when they have been cleared by a medical professional and all three of the following criteria are met: 1) at least three days (72 hours) have passed since recovery (resolution of fever without the use of fever-reducing medications, i.e. Tylenol or Ibuprofen); 2) the employee has improvement in respiratory symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath); and 3) at least 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.

    These three cases serve as a reminder that we must all remain vigilant in taking care of ourselves and each other. It is worth noting that when we are able to resume classes in person, we will need to communicate any confirmed COVID-19 cases to our community members in real time, so our strict adherence to protocols and prompt reporting of symptoms will be critical to sustaining a safe campus environment. 

    In the midst of all this, we need to remember that any St. Stephen’s employees, students and family members who contract COVID-19 are beloved members of our community, like all Spartans. We will pray for their recovery and must continue to serve each other by following our protocols. 

    Civil Discourse Training for Faculty and Staff
    As we finalize plans for the start of the school year, we also are preparing for the 2020 election this fall. This August and September, employees will have the opportunity to enroll in several webinars designed to help school communities promote civility on their campuses amid what could be a volatile national environment. 

    Offered by the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest, this training will draw upon some of the lessons learned from the 2016 election to help faculty and staff prepare for a variety of reactions from our diverse constituencies. We will come away from this training equipped with strategies and tools to foster civil dialogue while making space for divergent perspectives. 

    I know it has been a stressful and turbulent summer for everyone, with the prospect of continued uncertainty in the weeks and months ahead. In times like these, I find it comforting and instructive to return to the school’s reason for being. St. Stephen’s was founded 70 years ago to prepare each of our students to live a life of meaning and enrich the world. Our faculty and staff recognize the current situation as a unique opportunity to help our students manage change and negotiate adversity in ways that build grit, compassion, hope, curiosity and community. Empathy, kindness, levity and grace will be key ingredients in our collective journey this fall. I, for one, cannot wait to see our students’ beaming faces and hear their spirited stories of the summer months -- whether in virtual spaces or in person! 


    Chris Gunnin, Head of School

    Read More
  • Head of School Update for Residential Families – July 22

    Dear Residential Families,

    I’m writing to provide an update on important information related to your child’s residential life experience at St. Stephen’s this fall. This message provides details about our plan to welcome residential students back to campus, as well as a few updates we will make to the boarding program this year to promote the safety and well-being of all our students. I’m certain that many of you will have follow-up questions related to your specific situations, and our staff will be available to help answer those questions in the coming days so you can make decisions that are in the best interest of your children. 

    I want to be clear about one important issue up front. St. Stephen’s was founded 70 years ago to serve boarding students, and we remain fully committed to maintaining the residential program and supporting our residential families throughout this challenging pandemic situation.

    Using a Phased Approach to Welcome Boarding Students to Campus
    As you are aware, St. Stephen’s has invested a significant amount of time, energy and resources to prepare for a safe and orderly opening of school this fall. However, Austin’s medical community is currently experiencing significant stress due to the high level of confirmed local cases of COVID-19. As a result, we have developed a phased approach that will allow groups of boarding students to return to campus for the school year in a staggered manner. The timing of this phased approach is based on the current plan to begin the school year on August 25 in a remote learning and living model until at least September 8. All boarding students returning to campus will engage in remote learning while on campus until such time as governmental authorities determine that on-campus instruction is allowable and the school believes it is safe for all students, boarding and day, to engage in a less restrictive learning model.

    In the coming days, after you’ve had a chance to read this email and consider your options carefully, we will send a survey to all boarding families regarding your plans to return to campus. Please complete that survey as soon as possible. 

    Phase 1: The first phase is based on an assessment of boarding students who are at greatest risk in the remote learning and living model we will use to start the school year. These include: 1) boarding students facing food and/or housing insecurity and technology limitations in their home environments, and 2) international students who are already in the United States without adult supervision or without other housing options for the fall.

    We will focus on welcoming these groups of students to campus in the first phase of boarding student arrivals between August 11-23. We recognize there may be exceptional cases for other boarding students who do not fit into one of these two groups, and we will consider those cases on an individual basis.
    Phase 2: Once we are able to receive these two groups of boarding students on campus in August and sustain a healthy campus environment, we plan to welcome other boarding students to campus. Depending upon the number of boarding students who wish to return to campus at that time, we may need to further stagger their arrivals during the second half of September and early October. 
    We also recognize that some of our boarding students may choose to stay in the remote learning and living model throughout the fall or even for the entire school year. We are committed to providing them with an outstanding educational experience and support services while they study from home.

    Protocols for Testing and Quarantining
    In an effort to keep the St. Stephen’s community as safe as possible, we will require all boarding students to obtain a SARS-CoV-2 test prior to returning to campus. Each student will need to provide documentation of their negative test results to our Health Center prior to their arrival or upon entry. A positive test will require a 14-day quarantine off campus before re-entry is permitted. Families will need to make their own arrangements if this is the case. Families also will be responsible for the cost of this test if it is not covered by an individual’s health insurance policy. (Note: Students enrolled in the UnitedHealthcare Student Plan should check with UnitedHealthcare to confirm if this test would be covered under the plan.)

    Unfortunately, because students will be coming from many different locations, the school cannot provide a universal way to administer pre-arrival tests for all students. However, we have provided an order from our school physician to assist you in ordering this test. This physician’s order will be available in your Magnus Health account. Please work with your local community health department and/or primary care provider to find a place to have this testing done. If you have any questions, please reach out to
    The testing requirements for pre-arrival tests are as follows: 

    • The sample must be obtained with a nasopharyngeal swab.

    • A PCR SARS-CoV-2 test is required (antibodies or other antigen tests are not acceptable).

    • The test must be performed within 10 days of re-entry to campus, and results must be presented to gain entry to campus.

    If a student’s pre-arrival test is positive and the student has been quarantined off-campus for 14 days, we will not re-test that student upon re-entry. 
    For students whose pre-arrival test results are negative, St. Stephen’s will provide an additional test (nasopharyngeal PCR SARS-CoV-2 test) shortly after they arrive on campus. They will be quarantined in their dorm rooms for an appropriate period of time; all meals will be delivered to these students in their dorm rooms. If the result of the second test is positive, we will relocate the student to an isolation area and continue to monitor the student for symptoms, as well as help them with meals and daily needs.
    Every boarding student should arrive on campus with a working thermometer and washable face coverings. In the coming days, we will provide a list of other health supplies and personal protective equipment boarding students should plan to bring with them. 

    Acknowledging and Managing Risk 
    St. Stephen’s is taking extraordinary measures to promote the safety and health of all students and employees this school year. We have reviewed these measures with our Medical Advisory Committee, which has approved our protocols and determined they are reasonable and thorough. We also have developed appropriate protocols to handle any positive COVID-19 cases, based on information currently available to us. 

    Despite these efforts, St. Stephen’s cannot guarantee with absolute certainty that students and employees will not be exposed to COVID-19 on our campus. We acknowledge and require parents and students to acknowledge and understand that we cannot completely control every aspect of our environment and that despite all of our efforts to promote a safe and healthy environment, it is likely that there will be COVID-19 cases on campus this school year. We will ask all our families to acknowledge this reality by signing a form that we will share in the coming weeks. 

    We will require all students and employees to practice physical distancing, wear masks and follow other health and safety protocols, including performing a daily self-screening. These practices will need to be performed on a daily basis until the school determines they are no longer necessary. If a student is not willing to commit to these practices, that student should select our remote learning option for this school year. If a student does not follow our protocols, that student may face consequences up to and including being required to participate in our remote learning and living model, or separation from the St. Stephen’s community. Students and families also have an obligation/duty to disclose if anyone in their family or immediate circle of contacts has come in contact with COVID-19. This could include siblings who attend other schools or parents who work in non-isolated work environments. If a family member or close contact was exposed to COVID-19 under such a circumstance, students and their families will be obligated to inform the St. Stephen’s administration so we can decide if that student needs to isolate for 14 days. 

    Because of the many uncertainties associated with COVID-19, the only way to guarantee that your child will not be exposed to it at St. Stephen’s is to select remote learning from home as your child’s learning option this year. If this is your choice, we are prepared to provide a first-rate and robust remote experience for your child.

    Support Services for Boarders Doing Remote Learning from Home 
    For those boarding students who select the remote learning option this year, we are committed to helping them participate in, contribute to and enjoy the benefits of the St. Stephen’s Experience. Toward that end, we are providing online access to the following programs, resources and support services:

    • Boarding program orientation will be online, beginning August 3
    • Academic classes, instructional materials, and enrichment activities and resources
    • Dorm activities as well as student clubs and other social opportunities
    • Worship services, college counseling, learning specialists and wellness counselors
    We will provide more details on these and other online programs and resources in the coming weeks. Be sure to review the Path Forward to 2020-21 web page for more information.

    Facing A New Reality: The Boarding Experience Will Be Different This Fall 
    St. Stephen’s Residential Life Program has developed new policies for residential students to return to campus and live together safely in our residential community. While this year’s boarding experience will be different from what residential students are accustomed to, our new policies are meant to balance students’ safety with their opportunities to live in a vibrant and thriving community.

    In addition to setting aside dorm rooms for isolation and quarantine, the residential community will implement the following temporary policies to help maintain a healthy community. For at least the first six weeks of school, we believe the best way to minimize exposure to COVID-19 is to limit residential students’ abilities to leave campus. Students will be able to participate in Special Permissions (SPs) to leave campus and Overnights only with their parents. We know that students enjoy the many resources and activities Austin has to offer, so our goal is to relax this rule as soon as the school believes it is safe to do so.

    In addition, we have created a special On-Campus Activities Committee, made up of faculty and students representing all aspects of the school. This committee will create fun and rewarding activities on campus for boarding students.  

    New “Fourth Meal” Program
    Because the school is limiting boarding students’ opportunities to go to restaurants off campus or order food to be delivered to campus, we have created “The Fourth Meal.” The Dining Hall will provide a late-night meal of the student’s favorite food items once a month, as well as provide snacks of the student’s choice. These snacks will be delivered to the dorm weekly. In addition, we recognize that students have favorite restaurants and food items that they enjoy outside of the meals we offer. To compensate for the fact that students will not be able to order food to be delivered by outside vendors, our residential team will be ordering food from outside vendors and restaurants once a month. Lastly, our head of school and director of residential life will continue their annual tradition of providing a study hall break special surprise to each dorm.

    Your Contacts for Different Questions
    Our staff will be happy to assist you with any questions you may have. 

    In addition, please be sure to reference the new Path Forward to 2020-21 web page for the latest FAQs.

    Our Commitment to Building a Strong Virtual Community
    St. Stephen’s is committed to giving our boarding students a strong sense of belonging to our community, whether they are living and learning on or off campus. To keep every boarding student engaged in the life of our school, residential house leaders will host all their dorm meetings, special activities and community-building activities in online spaces. One of our top priorities is to ensure that remote residential students feel like they are part of their dorm community, so that when they do return to campus, they feel fully engaged.

    As a reminder, we will send a survey to all boarding families in the coming days regarding your plans to return to campus. Please complete that survey as soon as possible.

    Thank you for your patience and flexibility during these challenging times. We look forward to welcoming your children back to campus sometime this school year.


    Chris Gunnin, Head of School
  • Update on Our Plan as Remote Learning Approaches - March 21

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families,

    I hope this email finds you and your families healthy, safe and sound. I know that all of us are struggling to establish new routines and rhythms of life while navigating a rapidly changing environment. As we get set to embark upon remote learning this week, I’m touching base to provide updates on several aspects of the school’s COVID-19 continuity plan.

    Overview of Remote-Learning Plan
    By now, you have received emails from Kim Garey and Magnus Maccow providing more details about how the remote-learning plan will work. I’d like to share a few key thoughts regarding that plan.

    First, we will kick off the first week of remote learning at an intentionally slow pace, which will increase a little as we move into the second week. We recognize that students and faculty will need time to adapt to this new learning model, and we want to preserve time for student and faculty self-care as they make these adjustments. At this time, we are all experiencing enough anxiety from non-school-related challenges, so this is not a time for school to add to that anxiety. If we decide to extend remote learning into the week of April 6, we will provide more details on that later.

    This initial period of remote learning is intended not to replicate everything that would normally be accomplished in face-to-face classes, but to engage students in meaningful opportunities to learn and apply core concepts, knowledge and skills. As we considered a range of logistical and equity issues, including access to technology and time zone differences, we decided to implement asynchronous instruction initially. In addition, we do not want to create a situation where students at home are on their devices from 8:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. “sitting” in their classes.

    Teachers will assign modules, which will vary from class to class within a department and across disciplines. Each module will consist of some kind of assignment (e.g., reading, video clip, recorded lesson) that students will be asked to respond to in some way (e.g., practice exercises, reflections, writing assignments). Teachers will then provide feedback to student responses.  

    Second, the remote learning schedule will provide ample opportunity for teachers and students to communicate about academic assignments as well as continue to build one-on-one relationships that are such an essential part of the St. Stephen’s Experience. Advisors will be touching base with their advisees in the coming days, and teachers will be contacting students with the specifics of their remote-learning activities.

    Third, students will be able to take ownership of the learning that occurs in this less structured environment by pursuing academic-enrichment opportunities above and beyond assigned modules. Cynthia Bartek and her library team are curating additional online materials and resources that will allow students to extend their learning, if they so choose. These enrichment opportunities are not mandatory. We will be sharing a link to these enrichment resources and materials in the coming days.

    Please note that many of our other program leaders have announced, or will be announcing, changes they have made to accommodate the remote-learning schedule. These include College Counseling, Chapel and Counseling.

    Reminder about Information Resources
    In addition to these academic-enrichment materials for students, I want to remind all of you about other information resources available to you this spring.

    • The St. Stephen’s Coronavirus Information site houses updated information related to COVID-19 and its impact on our school, along with links to other related school resources and event cancellations/changes.

    • Remote Learning at SSES offers remote-learning guidelines and technical help for students and teachers. This site also serves as students’ portal for academic assignments (modules).

    • The school’s biweekly newsletter, News and Notes from The Hill, provides a school-wide perspective on recent accomplishments as well as upcoming events and announcements.

    • The Resource Board grade tiles on MySSES feature the latest grade-specific, division-specific and school-wide announcements.

    Request to Be Vigilant about Social Distancing
    Finally, I want to reiterate and underscore the importance for all of us to practice responsible social distancing. I hope that each of your families will help “flatten the curve” by reducing risky interactions in the coming weeks. This is a chance for each of us to live our school’s core values as responsible global citizens behaving in ways that serve a greater good.
    While I know the risks of social isolation are real, we can use technology to stay in touch with family, friends and colleagues in the coming weeks. In addition, CNN ran a story today that offers creative options for overcoming the kind of cabin fever we are all experiencing these days. It offers something for everyone—from busybodies and foodies, to lovers of the arts, sports and the great outdoors.
    I sincerely appreciate the patience, love, flexibility and support that our families have exhibited thus far in dealing with this unfortunate situation. In the days ahead, please take care of your loved ones, and know that we are committed to providing an enriching educational experience for your students through the end of the spring term and beyond.
  • Update on Plans to Start School - July 17

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families,

    A flurry of events and decisions at the local, state and federal levels have occurred in the last week that impact when schools and universities can legally open this fall as well as how they should safely open. We recognize these events and decisions have created additional anxiety and questions in the minds of our families. The school’s Administrative Team, Reopening Task Force, Medical Advisory Committee and Board of Trustees are evaluating all of these factors as we finalize plans for the opening of the 2020-21 school year.

    I will provide as much clarity in this email as possible, with the understanding that it will not answer every question or allay every concern on your minds at this time. Please be assured that we are working diligently and will communicate different aspects of our plan as they are completed.

    School Will Start on August 25 Using a Remote Learning and Living Model
    Earlier this week, the Austin-Travis County Health Authority urged local schools to delay the fall semester until at least September 8, or to offer virtual-only instruction before that time. The city of Austin subsequently announced an updated health order stating that school systems and private schools operating in Travis County cannot reopen schools for in-person classes until after September 7.

    In accordance with this city directive, St. Stephen’s will begin school on August 25 using a remote learning and living model until at least September 8. We are working swiftly and carefully to determine the appropriate timeline and strategies for bringing residential students to campus for the fall. I will communicate directly with those families on Wednesday, July 22.

    Impact on Some of Our “Preseason” Events and Activities
    As a result of this decision, we have canceled preseason sports camps that were scheduled to take place before the start of school. In accordance with a decision made by SPC member schools, we will not begin any Middle School or Upper School athletic practices until September 8, and competitions between SPC schools will not occur before September 21. Middle School instrumental music and theatre preseason camps will not meet in person, but directors will provide online introductory sessions the week of August 18-21. In addition, the Venture Orientation Program for international students will happen in a virtual format, rather than on campus as was initially scheduled. Directors of all these programs will send follow-up emails to participants in the days ahead. We are evaluating how our August 25 remote learning start date will impact other programs and activities, including Middle School and Upper School orientations, and we will update you accordingly.

    Continuing to Make Progress in Our Planning Efforts
    We have made significant progress in the past two weeks in several areas of planning. Members of our Reopening Task Force are close to finalizing a facilities-use plan that will promote safe living and learning for our students in reconfigured classrooms and other spaces in the Chapel, library, dining hall, dorms, gyms, and fine arts buildings. In addition, members of the task force are working with the Medical Advisory Committee to finalize our protocols for screening and testing students and employees, as well as for isolating and treating any suspected cases that could arise, including how we will care for individuals who test positive. This entails repurposing existing spaces and acquiring new facilities. Both of these efforts also include the acquisition of various supplies and equipment to promote personal hygiene and safety along with clean indoor spaces.

    Supporting Our International Students
    I would like to affirm the school’s support of all of our international students and their families. The recent announcement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) regarding new rules affecting international students and the Administration’s subsequent rescission of those rules have created greater uncertainty and anxiety for these loved and valued members of our community.

    Our international students and their families, from all over the world, are a vital part of St. Stephen’s. The lives of all Spartans are enriched by the presence of international students on our campus, and we are deeply grateful for the unique perspectives, backgrounds, experiences and cultures you contribute to our diverse and inclusive global community. We are focusing our time, resources and energies to help our international students fully participate in, contribute to and enjoy the benefits of the St. Stephen’s Experience this school year. We look forward to welcoming you to campus this fall as soon as we can do so appropriately and safely.

    In addition, I am grateful for the extraordinary work that our International Program Office has done to support our international students throughout a turbulent spring and summer. I would like to thank all of the International Team for their unwavering dedication and tireless efforts on behalf of our students. Ms. Todd and other members of this team will be in regular contact with all of you in the days and weeks ahead as we prepare for your arrival.
    Launching New Web Page Focused on Reopening School
    Finally, we have created a new Path Forward to 2020-21 web page to share important information about opening school this fall in the midst of the global pandemic. This page replaces the Coronavirus Information web page from this past spring. The new page features information related to our decision-making criteria and process, as well as health and safety, academic planning, supporting families and residential life. We will update it with new information as it becomes available. This new web page complements our customary Back to School web page, which provides information and forms for summer reading assignments, orientation schedules, student health records, and purchasing textbooks and other supplies.

    Your Contacts for Questions
    Please feel free to contact the following people with any questions or concerns you might have in the coming weeks.

    • Questions about residential life should go to Gene Phillips at

    • International Program questions should be directed to Sarah Todd at
    I hope that you and your families are able to enjoy the remainder of summer break while staying safe and healthy. I will reach out with additional updates as they become available.


    Chris Gunnin, Head of School
  • Update on Preparations for 2020-21 School Year – July 2

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families,

    As we approach the July 4th weekend commemorating the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1776, I hope all members of the St. Stephen’s community around the world are enjoying their summers and staying healthy. Since my last email, our faculty and staff have made good progress in preparing for the reopening of school. At the same time, the COVID-19 situation “on the ground” continues to evolve. So I thought this was a good time to provide an update on several key topics, including health protocols and tools under development, the status of student immunizations and physical exams, technology requirements for the school year and changes to our graduation plans for the Class of 2020.

    Beginning with this email and continuing for the remainder of the summer, I will send these email updates to all St. Stephen’s parents and Upper School students. Middle School parents should feel free to share these updates with their children as they deem appropriate.

    Developing Health Protocols and Risk Mitigation Tools
    Our Reopening Task Force and Medical Advisory Committee are working diligently to establish appropriate health protocols and risk mitigation tools, including COVID-19 screening and testing for our community. Unfortunately, Texas Education Agency (TEA) guidelines for the fall have not been published at this time. While we have not finalized all details for this aspect of our planning, foundational work is well underway to determine the safest and most appropriate way to start school. Following are some of the requirements that will be in place when we reopen school. We will share additional details as they become available via email and on a new Reopening for Fall 2020 Webpage coming soon.
    • All individuals will be required to wear face coverings in buildings and anytime they are within six feet of someone else outdoors. For activities in which masks may not be used (e.g., dining, band rehearsal), other safety measures will be in place and will be communicated in greater detail at a later time.

    • Hand sanitizing stations will be placed at building entrances and/or in classrooms. All community members will be expected to wash or sanitize their hands regularly throughout the day.

    • We are building a daily schedule with significantly reduced class sizes. Occupancy of classrooms will be governed by the 45-square-foot per-person standard.

    • Dining Hall practices will be altered to promote social distancing and safe delivery of meals.

    • Faculty will be encouraged whenever possible to open windows to improve air circulation in classrooms and work spaces.

    • We will build and install plexiglas barriers in strategic places (e.g., library, dining hall, offices in high-traffic areas) to promote health and safety.

    • All members of our community will be expected to complete daily health self-screenings before arriving on campus. They will be required to stay home if they exhibit symptoms or meet other criteria. We will post these details on the new Reopening for Fall 2020 Webpage in the near future.

    • Outdoor gathering spaces will be enhanced. We are purchasing and installing additional outdoor furniture to encourage community members to gather outdoors in physically distanced ways.

    • Outside organizations will not be able to rent St. Stephen’s facilities, which will reduce the number of people accessing campus.

    • Parents’ access to campus will be limited for drop-off and pick-up purposes. Parent meetings will occur virtually until further notice.

    • Campus will be closed to prospective students and families, and we have created a new video tour of campus so these families can experience our campus remotely. Admission Office activities for the 2021-22 admission season will occur virtually until further notice.

    • Non-St. Stephen’s personnel employed by families as private tutors will not be allowed on campus. Students who engage with private tutors during the school day will need to do so virtually.

    • Bathroom occupancy will be restricted.

    • Passing periods will be extended to give students more outdoor time as well as breaks from viewing computer screens. These periods also will give us more time for cleaning classrooms and making technology adjustments between classes.

    Immunizations and Physical Exams for Students

    St. Stephen’s understands the challenges related to seeing healthcare providers during this time. However, the Texas Department of Health Services has not changed its immunization requirements for school entry. In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that immunizations should not be deferred at this time and highly encourages the administration of the influenza vaccine in addition to those required. All St. Stephen’s students will need to meet these state immunization requirements for the upcoming school year. You may choose to sign your child up for an influenza vaccine to be administered at school in the Magnus Health portal.

    In accordance with outside agencies, all new students and 9th grade students at St. Stephen’s are required to have a physical exam to participate in sports and physical education for the 2020-21 school year. Additionally, 11th grade students participating in sports, dance, Theatre Focus and the Devil’s Canyon Wilderness Program (DCWP) will need a physical exam to participate.

    Once you have completed these tasks, please log in to your child’s Magnus Health account to upload the documentation.

    Technology Requirements for the New School Year
    Each St. Stephen’s student will need to have their own dedicated laptop computer or Chromebook for the 2020-2021 academic year. This requirement is designed to achieve several objectives:

    • Ensure that students can fully engage in academic activities and realize the corresponding learning benefits.

    • Help students build and sustain the strong sense of being connected to our community that is distinctive of the St. Stephen’s Experience and particularly important during times of physical distancing and remote or hybrid learning.

    • Minimize the extent to which students share computers and other devices that could spread COVID-19.

    In a poll of our families conducted last October, about 80% reported that their children have their own laptop or Chromebook device. We recognize that some of our current students and some of our new students do not have these kinds of devices. The school will distribute a limited number of devices to students who are not able to provide their own. If your child does not have a laptop computer or Chromebook, please email St. Stephen’s Director of Technology Dan Laws at, and he can arrange the loan of a device for the academic year.

    Dan and his IT team are working closely with faculty and administration to determine any other technology requirements for our students in the coming year. He will send an email to all parents in the coming weeks as they finalize those decisions.

    Changes to Graduation Plan
    Finally, in light of Mayor Adler’s recent announcement extending Austin’s “Stay Home, Work Safe” order through August 15, as well as the growing number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the city, St. Stephen’s has decided to postpone Baccalaureate and Graduation for the Class of 2020 from August 7-8 to November 27-28. These are the back-up dates we determined when we originally decided to push these events from May to early August. Our top criteria in making this postponement decision was the health and well-being of our graduating students along with their family members and friends planning to attend the event. For those who cannot come to campus in November, we will livestream the events so they can participate remotely.

    I will touch base again in two weeks with another update on our preparations for reopening school. In addition, Jon McCain will send an email in the next week to students planning to participate in fall sports. If you have any questions in the meantime, please feel free to email me at

  • Update on Preparations for 2020-21 School Year - June 18

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families,

    I hope this email finds all of you settling into your summer routines and doing well. It has been two weeks since I last touched base, so I wanted to update you on the school’s progress as our faculty and staff continue to prepare for reopening school in August.

    Medical Advisory Committee
    I’m pleased to announce that we have established a Medical Advisory Committee that will guide our decision making with respect to a healthy reopening in August and ongoing operations throughout the school year. I will serve on this committee along with Gretchen Inman, director of health services; Cindy Stadulis, chief financial officer; and Dr. Kerry Rhodes, school physician; as well as parents Dr. John Abikhaled, a general surgeon currently serving as president of the Travis County Medical Society; Dr. Liz Alcocer, an infectious disease expert; Dr. Okey Nwanyanwu, a global public health expert; and Dr. Leslie Wells, a pediatrics specialist. I am grateful to all the members of this committee for their assistance in accessing the latest medical information, understanding health policy guidelines and connecting the school to valuable health resources.

    Contact Tracing Certification for Key Staff
    To bolster our health-related knowledge and resources, a number of St. Stephen’s employees will become certified in contract tracing this summer. In the coming weeks, our nursing team, house leaders, deans and division heads, and athletic trainers will complete an online Coursera class developed by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. We do not expect these employees to serve in an official contact tracing capacity, as we would rely on Austin Public Health officials to perform that service if we should need it. However, the training will give these employees a greater understanding about how COVID-19 spreads at a community level and provide them with strategies and tactics to keep our community members safe.

    Parent and Student Survey Responses
    I am sincerely grateful to those parents and students who took time to complete the remote learning and living survey we sent out several weeks ago. Well over 250 students and more than 300 parents completed the survey. Following are highlights from the results.
    • Concerning our school’s overall response to the pandemic this spring, 90% of parents and 88% of students thought we did a good job.

    • Regarding our communications throughout the spring, 90% of parents and 78% of students thought the school did a good job.

    • On remote learning, 72% of parents and 78% of students found the experience to be favorable.

    • When asked about the amount of work assigned to students: 53% of parents and 39% of students said it was the right amount, while 14% of parents and 34% of students said it was too much.

    • When asked whether there was enough time built into the schedule to get that work done, 79% of parents and 80% of students said there was enough time.
    Overall, we received exceptionally valuable feedback from both constituencies about how to make improvements in certain areas, along with high praise from many about how well the school did in the short time we had to recreate the learning experience. As we continue to prepare for several possible reopening scenarios, we will combine this input with the lessons faculty and staff learned this spring and best practices gleaned from other school districts, universities, and independent and boarding school associations. We also will continue to tap into the valuable perspectives of our parents through conversations with our six trustees who are parents of students or alumni as well as our Parents’ Association board members.

    Academic Planning
    We are striving to maximize in-person learning activities this fall in hopes of providing an educational experience that closely resembles our “normal” academic schedule. However, we are balancing this approach with flexibility and creativity, recognizing that some students and faculty may not be able to physically be “in class” for safety and health reasons.

    While we continue to plan for different scenarios, we are sharpening our focus on a hybrid model that would allow students the opportunity to rotate between in-person classes and remote sessions on alternating days. The daily schedule for this model would feature a full day of learning from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (whether “in class” or participating remotely). Our regular grading scale will go back into effect and attendance will again be required. We are still considering how we would divide the student body and determine who would be “in class” and who would be remote each day. For students who do not feel comfortable returning to campus for “in class” learning, we will provide a high-quality remote-learning experience comparable to the one experienced by students attending classes in person. We also are exploring ways for students who are not physically “in class” to be able to be supervised on campus. As we refine our plans to provide in-person and remote instruction, we will use parent polling to assist in this effort.

    In addition, it is possible that the academic calendar may change (e.g., vacation dates, the last day of school, configuration of the school day). We will do all we can to honor the number of days for student learning and vacation time while finishing the school year as published on the current master calendar. We will communicate any changes to this calendar to the entire St. Stephen’s community as expeditiously as possible.

    Professional Development
    Our faculty have started taking professional development courses offered by Global Online Academy. As I mentioned in an earlier communication, GOA is a pioneering organization committed to helping seasoned classroom teachers adapt their traditional approaches for teaching, collaborating and assessing to the online learning space. At the end of this week, more than 50 faculty and academic administrators will have completed a one-week intensive “boot camp” course. By the end of the summer, 100% of full-time teachers and over 90% of part-time teachers will complete specialized training on how to make online learning engaging and dynamic. Teachers, advisors and dorm parents will study a variety of topics—from increasing student agency and voice, to optimizing instructional design in an online environment, to assessing students for understanding and mastery. Two of the overarching goals for our partnership with GOA are to figure out the best ways to: 1) nurture community-mindedness in an online classroom and 2) motivate students to embrace new kinds of academic and intellectual activities. I’m confident that these efforts will yield innovative and exciting learning experiences for our students this fall.

    Technology Enhancements
    We also are investing in several technology enhancements designed to improve the educational experience for teachers and students whether they are interacting in person or in hybrid or remote-learning environments. These include the installation of video conferencing systems in more than 55 classrooms. This will allow teachers to present richer content while facilitating more dynamic interaction among all participants, wherever they are. Increased wireless coverage will enable us to deliver a consistently higher-quality experience for faculty and students engaging in online learning anywhere on campus. New audio-visual equipment in the Chapel will enrich the experience of our online worship services, as well as those occasions when our community gathers in person for time-honored traditions and sacred rituals, including Baccalaureate and Graduation along with marriages and baptisms.

    I will touch base again in two weeks with additional updates on our preparations for the 2020-21 school year. In addition, Gene Phillips, our director of residential life, will be contacting residential families in the next day or two with more details about plans for residential students to return to campus in August. If you have questions in the meantime, please feel free to contact me. Thank you for your continued patience and support.

  • Update on the 2020-21 School Year - June 5

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families, 
    With the 2019-20 school year now completed, we have shifted our attention and focused our resources on next school year. While no one knows how the global health situation will evolve between now and then, or the exact conditions under which we will begin the new year, we have initiated planning for the most likely scenarios. Our top priority throughout all these efforts remains the health, safety and well-being of our students and employees, and we are working diligently to minimize risk. At the same time, we are eager to create innovative and engaging educational experiencesfor the entire Spartan community.
    Aiming to Be on Campus, Planning for Three Scenarios
    We are currently planning for three scenarios, but our goal is to begin the school year with classes on campus. We know that we are at our best as a community and as a school when we are living and learning together on The Hill. But even this scenario will require us to add safety measures and reimagine certain types of activities. We recognize that some of the factors affecting our ability to resume classes on The Hill are beyond our control, including improvements in the quality of COVID-19 testing, access to testing and the spread of the virus in Austin. Nonetheless, we will work hard this summer to scrutinize every significant aspect of the student experience on campus, adapting our facilities, behaviors, processes and protocols so we can return to campus in the safest way possible, as soon as possible. 
    We also are planning for ahybrid model combining in-person and distance learning, with two to three versions of this approach depending upon several factors. The third scenario is a continuation of remote learning that would be improved by lessons we learned in the spring, results from the parent and student surveys, technology enhancements and faculty professional development  through our new institutional partnership with the Global Online Academy. 
    Intensifying Our Planning Efforts
    Last month, we formed a Reopening Task Force to guide our planning and preparation for the new school year. The task force consists of representatives from nearly every segment of our school, including academic administration, advancement, admission, athletics, dining hall, facilities and grounds, faculty, finance, fine arts, health and wellness, human resources, our international and residential programs, marketing and communications, and IT services. Task force members are considering the myriad details required to prepare for each of the three scenarios—from health screening, social-distancing protocols and facilities usage, to online teaching, assessment and collaboration tools, as well as daily and weekly academic schedules, and even the length of the fall term and appropriate breaks and holidays. All of these issues are complex and interconnected. In making its decisions, this task force is drawing upon a range of internal information as well as best practices from other school districts, universities, and independent and boarding school associations; the latest guidelines from the CDC; and official orders from local, state and federal agencies.
    These planning efforts will augment the customary ways our faculty and staff spend their summers improving the campus, refining courses, and enhancing programs and resources to better serve and support our students. 
    Giving Families a Choice
    St. Stephen’s recognizes that each of our families is unique. We also know that our families have different concerns about their children returning to classes on campus. While the school may decide to resume classes on campus, and some parents may be comfortable with that decision, others may prefer for their children to continue learning remotely from home. Whichever model we start the new year with, we will work with families as best we can to provide an educational experience that honors their concerns. I also recognize that many of our boarding families need to make travel and other logistical plans, and we will strive to make decisions and communicate them as expeditiously as possible so they can plan accordingly.
    Supporting Parents in Uncertain Times
    St. Stephen’s understands that some of our families have questions and concerns regarding tuition in light of the financial distress and uncertainty caused by COVID-19. We have looked at several solutions to help you manage uncertainty and alleviate stress. All families are welcome to use a tuition payment plan that would allow them to make 10 equal payments beginning August 2020 through May 2021. This option requires enrollment in our tuition insurance plan. If you are interested in pursuing this option, please contact Lawrence Sampleton, Associate Head for Enrollment and Financial Assistance, at In addition, we recognize that some families may not be comfortable meeting the June 15 tuition deadline in the midst of so much uncertainty. We are eager to work with individual families on a case-by-case basis if they wish to request a deadline extension for the remaining tuition and fee payments. 
    Our school has a long history of working to make the St. Stephen’s Experience accessible and affordable. The board of trustees voted this spring to make an additional limited amount of financial aid available in light of the economic downturn. If you recently have experienced increased financial hardship and would like to discuss need-based financial assistance, please contact Mr. Sampleton.
    Communicating with Parents this Summer
    We are very proud of the work our students did this spring, and early next week you will receive year-end comments from your child’s teachers and advisor. We will then send a survey to parents and a survey to students regarding their experience with remote learning this spring. These surveys are critical pieces of our overall planning efforts, and I hope that you and your children will complete them by noon on Saturday, June 13. This is an important opportunity for the Spartan community to reimagine parts of the educational experience at our school, and I look forward to this collaboration.  
    I plan to communicate with our families every two weeks over the course of this summer as the global health situation evolves and we continue our planning efforts. In upcoming emails, I will shed more light on the three learning scenarios/models we are preparing for and provide updates on our plans to support our community’s health and safety. 
    I wish you all a safe and healthy summer, and look forward to hearing of the many creative, fun-filled and purposeful ways you spend your time in the coming months.
    Chris Gunnin
  • Head of School Chris Gunnin’s Comments at Senior Award Night – May 23, 2020

    This evening we have recognized a number of seniors for individual achievements and accomplishments. In closing, I want to make a few comments to the entire St. Stephen’s Class of 2020.

    Today was scheduled to be your graduation. We planned on hosting you for the School’s 70th commencement exercises. We were to be together. We were to shake hands, hug and high five, cheer in unison for you and for all that you’ve become. We were to stand shoulder-to-shoulder one last time in this chapel with your parents, families, friends and teachers to honor your time here, to celebrate the remarkable individuals you’ve become and the hopeful and bright futures you each have.

    I know that we all mourn moments, events and celebrations that have been cancelled, postponed or shifted from in-person to online. I know that these last 10 weeks were not what you signed on for. I know that you have not had the customary collective traditions or some of the impromptu individual moments that you anticipated in your senior year.

    But even as we acknowledge this reality, I want to offer three thoughts that, I hope, will provide some comforting perspective.

    First, while campus has been closed, our love for you, our pride in all that you have accomplished, our recognition of your many triumphs and successes are not diminished in any way. Although this graduating class is dispersed throughout Austin, across the U.S. and around the world, I hope that you feel the love, pride and celebration of the entire St. Stephen’s faculty and staff wherever you may be tonight. You have completed every assignment, you have met every challenge, you have exceeded our expectations, and you have been a source of pride, joy, and inspiration to your teachers, friends and families. However far from The Hill you may be, in this sacred chapel on this sacred hill, you are known, loved, and celebrated tonight. On behalf of the board of trustees, the faculty and the staff of St. Stephen’s, I recognize your achievements and the legacy you leave behind as individual Spartans and as the collective Class of 2020. You are in our hearts, and you have taken some of the best parts of The Hill with you to your homes and families and communities.

    Second, I encourage you to consider not only what has been lost, but what you have contributed to in the last 10 weeks by sheltering in place. In short, you have saved lives. Your actions have been part of a global human effort to prevent the spread of a deadly disease. From your earliest days as Spartans, you have been mindful of your responsibility to the greater good. You have recognized that you are a member of the human family. You have known that our own success and well-being individually are connected to the well-being, health and happiness of others. You have prayed to be empowered to make a difference in the world, and I want to acknowledge your cooperation with and participation in the School’s effort to put the health and safety of ourselves and others as the highest priority. Yes, you have given up personal privileges, but you have contributed to the health and safety of the human family. No other class in the school’s history can claim with as much conviction as yours that in the way you have lived the final months of your high school career, you sacrificed for the greater good. You’ve placed the health and safety of the most vulnerable in our family over your own very real desires and you’ve done so with grace and good will.

    Third, I want to be very clear that the final 10 weeks of your senior year never represented the end of your relationship with the School, with your teachers or with your classmates. Being a Spartan is a lifelong experience. That may be difficult to understand or grasp now, but I am confident you will continue to find meaning in the moments you’ve experienced here, you will continue to hold on to lessons and relationships, and there will be many more St. Stephen’s moments for you in the years ahead. There are things that we did not get to do together, that we wanted and planned to do. But you have your lives in front of you. Your relationships with one another will continue to grow and evolve in the years ahead, and your relationship with the School was always intended to last a lifetime. You are always welcome here. Our love for our students never ends when they receive a diploma. While one chapter in your relationship with the school closes, the story is not over. There are many more chapters that you will write, and I hope that other members of the Spartan community will continue to be primary characters and that The Hill will continue to be the setting for future moments, events and triumphs. In short, I believe that there are great days ahead for each of you as Spartans.

    To the Class of 2020, Godspeed and God bless you until we are together again.
  • Thoughts on the End of the School Year - May 22

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families,
    As we approach the final week of the 2019-20 school year, I hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy in mind, body and spirit. I know this has been a difficult spring term in many respects. I sincerely appreciate the patience, resilience and kindness that all of you have demonstrated in navigating this challenging time in our lives.
    Celebrating Spartan Spirit and Ingenuity
    I am so proud of the way we have responded as a school during the period of remote learning and living. Students and faculty, in particular, have not allowed the situation to inhibit their talents. Through class assignments, extracurricular activities or purely independent impulses, they have achieved new heights of intellectual exploration, artistic expression and athletic exertion. The Senior Parade and Bell Ringing Ceremony on May 15 was only the latest example of the love, creativity and community at the core of the St. Stephen’s culture. I hope you will take time to celebrate their unbridled Spartan spirit and ingenuity.
    Looking Forward to Upcoming Events
    In the coming week, I am looking forward to celebrating several important end-of-year events with all of you. These include the Senior Recognition Event on May 25, the Middle School Recognition Event on May 27, and the Middle School Closing Ceremony and End-of-Year Parade on May 29.
    Initiatives to Help Prepare for the Fall
    I am pleased to announce several initiatives that will help us prepare for next school year, regardless of the circumstances facing us at that time.

    • Remote-learning survey for parents and students: I have asked John Rocklin to create a survey of parents and students regarding their experience with the remote learning and living model this spring. In designing this survey, we will tap into the expertise of Independent School Management (ISM), an organization founded in 1975 to improve the strategic decision-making and day-to-day management of independent schools in the United States and abroad. We will administer this survey immediately after the end of the spring term and use that feedback—in concert with the lessons we have learned as a faculty and administration in the last 10 weeks—to make sure that we have the best plan possible for the start of next school year, no matter what kind of living and learning model is required. 

    • Professional development for faculty via Global Online Academy: We have decided to partner with Global Online Academy (GOA) this summer to provide our academic administrators and faculty with enhanced knowledge, skills and techniques in remote teaching and learning. Every classroom teacher and advisor will take a variety of courses focused on online lesson design, assessment, student engagement and colleague collaboration, among other topics. Through this partnership with GOA, which was founded in 2011 by some of the nation’s leading independent schools, St. Stephen’s will strive to develop even stronger competency in online teaching and learning that will enhance the educational experience for all our students.

    • TABS Healthy Opening and Operation Committee: I will be serving with nine other heads of school on this committee, which will provide boarding school leaders and practitioners with concrete resources and actionable ideas that can help their schools open this fall in the healthiest possible way. St. Stephen’s will benefit directly from my participation on this committee as we define guidelines to help all TABS schools operate campuses in the safest manner possible.
    I know that this is a time of great uncertainty and that there are many questions about the future. I will send a more detailed email in early June regarding the different scenarios we are preparing for in the fall. In addition, I will communicate with families at least every two weeks during the summer to update you on our plans and preparations for next school year. 
    In the meantime, I am wishing our students success and joy in their final projects and activities of the school year. We are truly proud of their efforts to persist under difficult circumstances, and we draw daily inspiration from their positive attitude and hard work.
    Chris Gunnin
  • Class of 2020 Celebrations and Ceremonies - April 24

    Dear Members of the Class of 2020 and Parents,
    The Class of 2020 has consistently demonstrated leadership, creativity, good-will and courage in their final year at St. Stephen's, and the School remains committed to finding meaningful ways to celebrate their accomplishments. I know that graduation and other year-end celebrations are top of mind for all of us. I want to take a brief moment to update you on our current plans.
    In the last few days, Kim Garey, G.P. and I hosted five live-streamed "Senior Check-ins" to talk with members of the senior class about how we can best celebrate and support them. I am very grateful for the seniors who logged-in and took time to talk with us. One of the themes that emerged from those conversations is that the seniors strongly prefer a postponed, face-to-face graduation ceremony over something live-streamed. Second, they want to schedule graduation at a time when we are most likely to get the largest number of seniors to attend. We are hopeful that day students, domestic boarding students and international boarding students will be able to return to campus for graduation. 
    To that end, we will begin planning two possible graduation scenarios. If it appears that we can safely host graduation in the chapel in early August, we will. If, at that time, it is not safe, we will try again in November.
    August Plan
    Baccalaureate: Friday, August 7
    Graduation: Saturday, August 8
    November Plan
    Baccalaureate: Friday, November 27
    Graduation: Saturday November 28
    We are also working hard to plan a series of other special senior activities:
    • The Senior Bell Ringing Ceremony will be creatively reimagined and will occur in a socially-distanced way on campus during the day on Friday, May 15.

    • A new “Night at the Drive-In” event is being planned for members of the senior class at Doc’s Drive-In Theater in Buda, TX on Tuesday, May 19.

    • Senior Awards Night will be live-streamed on Saturday, May 23.

    • The senior parents are continuing to plan prom at the Headliner's Club and have scheduled a make-up date on July 17.

    • The seniors that we spoke with also were clear that they want some time to just hang out together on The Hill. We are open to supporting that and will do so as soon as we believe that it is safe and appropriate to do so.
    As you can imagine, there are a lot of details to finalize and we will need to continue to be flexible, but I wanted to share this information with you so that you can mark your calendars and begin making preparations. Please look for further details from G.P., Ms. Garey and Senior Class Parents. 
    Thank you for your support of the Class of 2020 and for your flexibility in thinking about how to honor the seniors.

    - Chris Gunnin
  • Updates on the End of the Spring Term - April 17

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families,
    As we wrap up another week of remote learning and social distancing, I hope you and your loved ones are staying healthy in mind, body and spirit. I am writing to update you on decisions school leadership has made on several important issues.
    Continuing Remote Learning for Remainder of Spring Term
    In light of Governor Abbott’s order today to all schools in Texas, St. Stephen’s will not resume classes on campus this school year. We will continue with the remote-learning model through the end of the spring term. While I anticipated the possibility or even likelihood of this outcome, I am deeply saddened by the loss of community experiences that we hoped for together on The Hill. I know that I speak on behalf of the entire faculty and staff when I say that we miss being together with our Spartans on campus. 
    Refunding Student Accounts for Certain Auxiliary Fees
    With the cancellation of on-campus classes, the board of trustees has decided to refund families for certain auxiliary fees. In general, we calculated the number of class-days missed on campus and will be refunding student accounts for the following applicable fees at a rate of approximately 28%, with some exceptions: Dining Hall, Facility Use, Transportation Services, Boarding, Soccer Academy, Tennis Academy and Theatre Focus. These refunds do not apply to day tuition, as we are continuing to provide the basic services funded by those dollars—including academics, athletics, fine arts, chapel, counseling and learning services, and college counseling—through our remote model.
    All told, we will be refunding about $1.5 million to our families. These refunds can be applied to this year's remaining balance or next year's tuition and fees. If requested, we will refund families with a check. Families also can donate these refunds back to the school in the form of a tax-exempt donation. 
    More detailed information about your specific refund will be posted on your student account by the end of next week. If you have additional questions about your refund after reviewing your student account, please contact Cindy Stadulis in the Business Office at
    Evaluating Different Scenarios for Graduation and Other Year-End Events
    Graduation and other year-end celebrations and traditions continue to be top of mind for me. In the past week, Kim Garey, Gene Phillips and I hosted five conference calls with members of the Class of 2020 to visit with them and answer their questions on a whole range of issues. Many seniors participated on these calls, providing us with great suggestions about ways to reimagine or reschedule important traditions like the senior retreat, the bell-ringing ceremony and graduation, among other things. We are considering all of their ideas as we evaluate different scenarios for these big year-end events. Recognizing that graduation in particular requires considerable planning and preparation by our families, I will provide more details on that big event and other year-end activities in the coming weeks. Our Middle School leadership team also is imagining meaningful ways to recognize and celebrate our 8th graders, and we will communicate in the coming weeks as those plans become more clear.
    Retrieving School Materials and Other Belongings on Campus
    In the days ahead, we also will communicate a plan for students to retrieve their school materials and other belongings on campus. We recognize this is a particular concern for our residential students, most of whom are staying with their families, relatives or friends right now across the country and around the world. Gene Phillips will communicate directly with our residential families with instructions about how this will be handled. Please do not come to campus in advance of these directions, as our efforts will need to be carefully coordinated for safety reasons.
    Cancelling Summer Camps
    We also have decided to cancel our summer camps program this summer, and these will be refunded in full. This was an extremely difficult decision, as we recognize summer camps are very important to many members of the St. Stephen’s and broader communities. We know that parents depend upon these camps for high-quality programming for their children during the summer months while they continue to work their jobs. We also recognize that students look forward to the sports, fine arts and enrichment activities as fun, low-stress ways to learn new skills and develop new friendships. In addition, they’re a great way for Austin families to experience our school for the first time. Weighing these factors, recognizing there is no definitive end to COVID-19 in sight, and sensing that our community needs time this summer to recover physically, emotionally and spiritually while beginning to plan for various contingencies in the fall, we decided to cancel the camps.
    I continue to think of all our families, especially our students, during this period of social distancing and remote learning. And while I miss our time interacting together on campus, I see evidence every day that the St. Stephen’s spirit is alive and well—from hosting virtual coffee houses, to donating medical supplies to local healthcare facilities, to real learning and engagement occurring in our newly adopted remote living and learning model. I encourage all of you to imagine new ways to explore your passions, connect with each other, take care of yourselves and support those who are most in need.
    Chris Gunnin
  • Planning for the Continuation of Remote Learning - March 31

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families,

    I hope you are staying healthy and well as you adjust to the new ways of working, learning, connecting and living during this time of social distancing and sheltering in place. I am gaining newfound perspective on life, as old routines are replaced—at least temporarily—by new ways of being and interacting with others. I am comforted by the strength and compassion of our community—two constants steadying the ship in these turbulent times.

    Governor Abbott announced earlier today that Texas schools will need to continue to use an online model until, at least, May 6. St. Stephen’s will adhere to those guidelines.

    Continuing Remote Learning
    As we plan for the continuation of remote learning, our model will evolve. Our academic leadership team is working quickly with the faculty to identify the best ways to integrate synchronous experiences into the remote learning curriculum to complement existing asynchronous approaches currently underway. Please look for an email from the division heads later this week that will outline the schedule and strategies we will begin implementing as early as this Monday. We also are defining “digital etiquette” for teachers and students, as well as adapting for the remote learning environment the Safeguarding God’s Children practices that we currently follow in our face-to-face interactions with students.

    Commitment to Episcopal Identity and Enduring Principles
    Among all of the articles I’ve been reading about how to facilitate remote learning—and they are legion when you look at what universities, public school systems, independent schools and boarding schools are doing—the focus seems to be on academic content. St. Stephen’s is certainly committed to engaging students in meaningful opportunities to learn and apply core concepts, knowledge and skills in various academic disciplines. But during this time of change and upheaval, we also are focused on fostering our enduring principles; this entails sustaining our strong sense of community, staying true to our Episcopal identity, living values of equity and inclusion, and supporting our students' mental health and wellness.

    As we move into the second phase of remote learning in the weeks ahead, we will celebrate rituals and traditions in digital spaces and worship together from a distance. We also will deliver a mix of synchronous and asynchronous educational materials focused on providing students with an equitable learning experience across all the different study environments, technology set-ups and time zones in which they now find themselves.

    What We Are Made of
    There is an old adage that in times of great trouble and distress, a person or a people show what they are truly made of. And I am proud to say that Spartans of all ages, backgrounds, and beliefs have “stepped up” during this health pandemic.

    We witnessed this in the collaborative effort of Lauren Murphy, Kathy McCain and Dean Mohlman, who gathered more than 5,000 medical gloves—earmarked for use during dissections in science classes—and donated the much-needed items to local physicians and nurses who can use them immediately. Even as they were harnessing these supplies, current international parents have sent facemasks and other PPE items as donations to the St. Stephen's and Austin community. Our Athletics Department has redoubled its efforts to facilitate students’ fitness by reimagining workouts in the digital realm, while our Counseling Office has launched the Counselors’ Corner to continue fostering student wellness from afar. Meanwhile, Caroline Herrera ’15, former volleyball, basketball player, and SPC champion, is working on the front lines as a first responder in Mobile, Alabama. She reports that as stressful as it is, she is experiencing more good in people than ever before. The litany of inspiring stories goes on and on.

    Thinking about the Remainder of the Spring Term
    At this time, we are planning to implement remote learning until the situation “on the ground” dictates otherwise. We will continue to base our decisions about the spring term on the latest information from the CDC and WHO, as well as directives from national, state and local officials. Having said that, we recognize that our families need time and advance notice to plan their lives. There will come a point in time in April when we will need to make a decision about how to proceed for the remainder of the spring term. We will make that decision in the best interest of our community, based on the best available information at that time.

    Our Hope Springs Eternal
    For now, we are holding out hope that we will be able to reconvene on campus at some point to finish out the spring term. Hope is, as Emily Dickinson observed, “the thing with feathers that perches in our soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.” This hope is fueled primarily by our love for our students and our deep desire to return to community life on campus with them.

    Students, I am proud of your resilience and good cheer during this unusual time. If I have learned anything in the last 15 days, it is how much our life together on campus fulfills and uplifts me. Please know that while we are not face-to-face, I am cheering you on!

  • Update in Light of Recent Events - March 25

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families,

    My thoughts continue to be with you and your families as we experience these challenging and difficult times. I pray for the safety and health of everyone in the St. Stephen's community.

    The school’s senior administrative team continues to monitor the latest local, national and global news as we consider the best course of action for educating our students this spring. Please know that as we make any decision regarding the continuation of school, the health and safety of our students and adult community members remains our highest priority.

    On March 21, I communicated that St. Stephen's would adopt a remote living and learning model that would extend, at least, until April 6. Since that time, the Mayor of Austin has established a shelter-in-place directive for Travis County that extends beyond that date. Because of that directive and the ongoing health concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19, St. Stephen’s will not return to traditional community life with classes on campus on April 6 as we previously hoped.

    Because the information from health officials and leaders around the world is changing so rapidly, I am not establishing a date for our possible return to traditional community life at this time. We will continue with the remote living and learning model until further notice.

    Our faculty and staff in every department are working hard to provide innovative, appropriate and positive activities for our students during this time of social distancing.

    I know that these days require courage and creativity, and I am grateful for the patience and support of our families. I am also inspired by the resilience of our students and look forward to seeing the meaningful ways that they grow during these trying times.

  • Update from St. Stephen's: The Plan for the Weeks Ahead - Saturday, March 14

    Dear St. Stephen’s Families,

    I hope you all are doing well physically, emotionally and mentally amid the turbulence and uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 situation. Our administrative team has developed a learning continuity plan that is designed to accomplish several things: 1) ensure the safety and well-being of our school community while helping sustain the health of the global community, 2) facilitate continuity of learning for our students and 3) maintain a sense of living in community in a time of social distancing.

    Our plan is based on the latest news and information from the CDC, WHO and other organizations as well as our ongoing communications with local health officials and peer schools. As we embark upon this plan, I’d like several key themes to influence our thoughts and actions:

    • The period of remote learning we are establishing is going to be fundamentally different from the classroom instruction we’re used to. We will all need to be flexible, creative and resourceful, embracing new ways of doing things.

    • We will manage the change that’s coming by working together in a spirit of collaboration.

    • We will finish out the spring term in a successful fashion, though success this spring will likely look and feel different than it has in the past.
    I ask you to please embrace these themes from the start of this journey, sprinkle them with grace along the way and revisit them in times of stress, which will be inevitable in the days ahead.
    Shift to Remote Learning for the Weeks of March 23 and 30
    St. Stephen’s will implement a remote learning plan for the weeks of March 23 and March 30. At this time, we plan to resume classes on campus on Monday, April 6. Please note that this date is subject to change based on events transpiring in the world around us between now and then. We will keep families apprised of any such developments.

    This suspension of on-campus classes will effectively serve as a 14-day quarantine. At this time, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection among the extended St. Stephen’s community.

    Remote-Learning Assignments
    Teachers will post remote-learning assignments beginning on Wednesday morning, March 25, with the expectation that students will access them via and work independently on them through Sunday, April 5. Teachers will design these assignments so that students will not need to: 1) use textbooks and materials that may have been left in their lockers on campus or 2) use new textbooks that have not yet been purchased from the bookstore.

    All Activities on Campus Are Cancelled for the Time Being
    St. Stephen’s has cancelled all events and activities on campus until the week of April 6. This includes all extracurricular activities, fine arts events, and club and organization meetings, as well as any activities planned by outside organizations. Activities scheduled to take place after April 6 are subject to change depending upon events transpiring around the world between now and then.

    Special Note about Sports
    Please note that all SPC athletic contests have been cancelled through April 12. SPC hopes to resume the regular schedule of sports on April 13. As a result of this decision, St. Stephen’s is cancelling all sports practices and games (including non-SPC games) between now and April 13.

    Residential Students Currently On or Off Campus
    I recognize that the global COVID-19 crisis creates anxiety and logistical challenges for everyone in our community. In an effort to reduce stress and uncertainty surrounding travel and other issues, residential students who are currently at home should plan to stay home until on-campus classes resume on April 6, if possible. For residential students who stayed on campus during the break plan, we request that they return home until classes resume on campus on April 6, if possible. We know that some of our residential students, for a variety of reasons, cannot return home. We will work with those students to ensure they can remain on campus with our support.

    Any residential students should know that they can elect to stay at home with their families for the remainder of the spring term and still receive full academic credit. We are committed to providing a remote-learning experience for any of those students through the spring term that is meaningful and rigorous. As we approach April 6, we will touch base with those residential students who are at home and who are planning to return to campus for the remainder of the term.

    In the coming days, our International and Residential Life teams will be sending targeted communications to boarding families and having individual conversations with parents to address specific issues.

    Practicing Responsible Social Distancing
    I believe independent schools can take a leadership role in addressing the global crisis by practicing responsible social distancing. So I am asking all employees and students to help “flatten the curve” by reducing risky interactions in the coming weeks. One way to do this is to avoid congregating in groups of 14 people or more. We can also use technology to stay in touch with family, friends and colleagues to avoid a sense of social isolation.

    Your Contacts for Questions
    We understand you will have additional questions and concerns after reading and absorbing this email. Please contact the following people, depending upon the nature of your question or concern. Various administrators will be sending follow-up communications to more targeted audiences in the days ahead.

    Health issues related to school: Gretchen Inman (If you or your child are experiencing any personal health-related issues, please contact your primary care physician.)

    Academic issues: Magnus Maccow for Middle School, Kim Garey or John Rocklin for Upper School

    Boarding issues: Gene Phillips

    International issues: Sarah Todd

    St. Stephen’s Coronavirus Website
    We will be posting all updates related to COVID-19 on the St. Stephen’s Coronavirus Information website. Please be sure to bookmark this site and refer to it often for the latest information regarding event cancellations and changes along with useful resources for students and parents.

    Thank you for your patience, understanding and resilience in the days and weeks ahead, as we strive to learn and live together in new ways. While these are challenging times, I’m confident we will develop new skills and strategies for living, working, collaborating and learning that will serve us well in the future.



    P.S. The following prayer provides valuable perspective on managing the COVID-19 crisis.

    Prayer for a Pandemic
    May we who are merely inconvenienced remember those whose lives are at stake.
    May we who have no risk factors remember those most vulnerable.
    May we who have the luxury of working from home remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.
    May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close remember those who have no options.
    May we who have to cancel our trips remember those who have no safe place to go.
    May we who settle in for a quarantine at home remember those who have no home.
    As fear grips our country, let us choose love.
    During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.
  • Grand Day Has Been Cancelled This Year - Monday, March 9

    Dear Spartan Families,

    In light of the continued spread of the coronavirus and new advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) regarding the most vulnerable segments of the population, including older adults, St. Stephen’s has decided to cancel Grand Day this year.

    I know this is disappointing news to our Spartan families and grandparents, as Grand Day is one of the most meaningful days on the calendar for our school. We love hosting grandparents and cherish the time they are able to spend with our students on campus each spring. But when it comes to the safety and well-being of everyone in our extended St. Stephen’s family, we believe we should exercise an abundance of caution. This will always be our top priority.

    We are in the process of reaching out to all grandparents, including those who have registered for Grand Day, to inform them of the cancellation, and we will update our website to reflect this decision. We would appreciate your assistance in reiterating this message to any of your families’ grandparents who were planning to attend. I recognize that some of our grandparents have made special plans to travel to Austin for this event, and we regret any inconvenience they experience as a result of our decision.

    We look forward to resuming the wonderful Grand Day tradition next spring, and wish all of you a safe spring break.


    Chris Gunnin
    Head of School
  • Update on Coronavirus - Friday, Feb. 28

    Dear St. Stephen’s Community,

    I know this is both an exciting and anxious time for many of our families as you finalize travel and other plans for spring break. As we head into the final week before the break, I want to provide you with an update on the school’s planning and activities related to the global coronavirus situation.

    Daily Monitoring of Situation

    As you are aware, the coronavirus outbreak is an evolving situation. While nobody knows exactly how it will unfold, St. Stephen’s top priority remains the safety and well-being of all our community members.

    As we make plans to be prepared for a variety of possible scenarios, we are reviewing preventive measures, risk assessments and travel advisories issued daily by organizations such as theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), theWorld Health Organization (WHO) and theU.S. State Department. We also are communicating regularly with families whose travel plans could be impacted by the evolving situation. This includes our ongoing efforts to assist some of our international families in making alternative plans for their children during spring break.

    Reminder of the School’s Travel Requirements

    In a Feb. 11 email, I shared the school’s travel requirements this spring for students and their families as well as our employees. If you are planning to travel this spring to or through areas of the world that are affected by the coronavirus, or if you will be spending time with someone who has been to or through affected areas, as identified in the CDC travel advisories, please ensure that you are symptom-free for 14 days after you return from your travels, before you return to campus. This travel advisory page is updated daily as the CDC tracks the geographic spread of the virus.

    Implementing Hygienic Best Practices

    In the meantime, the most effective way to stay healthy and minimize the spread of infectious disease is to follow basic health best practices. These include:

    • Washing hands thoroughly using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer;

    • Covering up coughs and sneezes, and then cleaning hands afterward;

    • Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and objects, such as doorknobs and shared computers; and

    • Asking all faculty, staff and students who are feeling ill to stay home until they recover. 

    We are encouraging our students and employees to follow these practices, which are based on preventive actions recommended by the CDC.

    Continuity Planning for Future Scenarios

    During a press briefing earlier this week, Nancy Messonnier, a director at the CDC, encouraged parents to ask their schools what plans they have for dealing with the coronavirus. So I wanted to let you know that we have begun continuity planning for a variety of scenarios, including ones that might require us to close school for a period of time. St. Stephen’s is committed to providing meaningful learning experiences for our students whatever the scenario. Toward that end, our academic and technology teams will be meeting in the coming days to review and enhance strategies that would enable us to sustain educational continuity for our students, including providing course materials, managing assignments and maintaining regular communications with them.

    I will continue to provide updates as the coronavirus situation evolves and we adapt our plans accordingly. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.


    Chris Gunnin
    Head of School
  • Message about the Coronavirus and Travel Plans this Spring - Tuesday, Feb. 11

    Dear St. Stephen’s Community,

    As we continue to monitor news about the spread of the coronavirus, our top priority remains the safety and well-being of all our community members, here in Austin and around the world. I know that many of you have made plans, or are in the process of making plans, to travel to various destinations this spring, so I wanted to share the school’s request for how to handle such plans. We are applying the following requirements not only to students and their families but also to our employees’ personal travel plans as well as school-sponsored trips.

    If you are planning to travel this spring to or through areas of the world that are affected by the coronavirus, or if you will be spending time with someone who has been to or through affected areas, as identified in the CDC travel advisories, please ensure that you are symptom-free for 14 days after you return from your travels, before you return to campus. In addition, please let Gretchen Inman, director of our health center, know of these travel plans in advance so she can assist with any questions or concerns you may have. Travel advisories and restrictions are changing daily due to the spread of the virus, so please keep apprised of the latest details as the date of your travel approaches. Also, be aware that travel to certain parts of the world is likely to become even more difficult in the weeks ahead.  

    In developing these requirements, we have reviewed the latest travel advisories and restrictions, preventive measures and risk assessments issued by organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. State Department.

    In addition, the school administration has been working diligently with boarding program and international program staff to help our international students make alternative plans for spring break. We hope to finalize arrangements for all these students in the coming days. I sincerely appreciate the hard work, patience and flexibility of these staff members along with the impacted students and their family members throughout this effort.

    If you have any questions or concerns about these travel requirements, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would be happy to discuss them with you.

    Christopher L. Gunnin
    Head of School
  • Update on the Coronavirus - Wednesday, Jan. 29

    Dear St. Stephen’s Community,

    As the coronavirus situation continues to evolve daily, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with our families throughout the world whose lives are being impacted by this crisis. As concern grows throughout our school community, I want to update you all on the precautionary measures we are taking on campus in the context of the virus.

    First and foremost, we are exercising an abundance of caution to ensure the health and safety of our school. We do not have indications that any members of our current community are symptomatic, and we are taking appropriate proactive steps to make sure visitors to campus do not put our community at risk.

    Our senior administrators and our health center director are regularly reviewing information as it is released from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). We also have been in contact with leaders from other schools as well as the directors for The Association of Boarding Schools and Independent Schools Association of the Southwest.

    In addition, we are working with our students from affected areas and their families to make alternative spring break plans for them instead of going home. These alternative plans are in accordance with the WHO and CDC travel restrictions.

    Most importantly, we are striving to live our core values by striking a balance between being proactive and responsible with respect to an evolving world health situation while caring for valued members of our community.

    If you have any questions or concerns, please do hesitate to contact me or Gretchen Inman, director of our health center.

    Christopher L. Gunnin
    Head of School

Helpful Information on Coronavirus

How does the virus spread?
  • Through coughing and sneezing
  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands thoroughly
What steps can I take to protect myself from the virus?
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently used objects and surfaces, such as computer keyboards in public spaces and student desks.
  • Stay at home and away from others if you feel ill.
What are the symptoms?
  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
Anyone exhibiting these symptoms should contact their primary care physician as soon as possible.
Address: 6500 St. Stephen's Dr., Austin, TX 78746
Phone: (512) 327-1213