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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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