St. Stephen's Coronavirus Information

St. Stephen's continues to monitor the latest news and information about the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). This is a rapidly evolving situation, so please check this page regularly for the most up-to-date information concerning our school.

In light of Mayor Adler's "Stay Home - Work Safe" order for the City of Austin on March 24, St. Stephen's has closed its campus to everyone except "essential staff." All other faculty and staff are working remotely. St. Stephen's has transitioned to remote learning for all students until further notice.

A Message to St. Stephen's Students

Head of School Messages

List of 8 items.

  • 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!

    Sincerely,
    Chris  
     
  • 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.

    Sincerely,
    Chris
  • 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.
     
    Sincerely,
    Chris
     
  • 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 spartans.sstx.org 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.

    Sincerely,

    Chris

    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.
    Amen.
  • 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.

    Sincerely,

    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.

    Sincerely,

    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
     

Event Changes and Cancellations

List of 2 items.

  • Cancellations

    SAT administration on Saturday, March 14, at Anderson High School, has been cancelled.

    Grand Day on March 27 is cancelled.

    Spring Book Fair on March 26-27 is cancelled.

    The Spartans Engage Mentoring and Internship Panel for Upper School students on March 31 has been cancelled. It will be rescheduled at a later date.

    All Parent Socials hosted by the PA this spring have been cancelled until further notice.

    All sports practices and games at St. Stephen’s will be cancelled until April 13, in light of SPC’s decision to cancel games. If possible, we will resume the regular schedule in all SPC sports on April 13.

    ISAS Arts Festival on April 2-4 is cancelled.

    All on-campus Admission Office events will be cancelled through April 5.

    The TEDxYouth@SSTX event on Saturday, April 18 has been cancelled.

    The St. Stephen's Regional Alumni Event in Austin scheduled for Wednesday, April 29 has been cancelled. We plan to reschedule the event for later this year and look forward to seeing you.
  • Changes

    All DEI Audit Focus Groups scheduled for parents on Monday, March 23 will be rescheduled for early May. 

    Coffee Under the Trees (CUTT) is going virtual on Friday, April 3rd! We will be using the Zoom platform for this event and would love for you to join us! You can find the Zoom meeting information in an email from the PA president as well as on the All-School Calendar and Resource Board Announcements. 
     

Helpful Information on Coronavirus

What is Coronavirus?

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a type of virus that causes diseases of varying severities, ranging from the common cold to more serious respiratory disease.

How does it 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 of COVID-19?
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe illness
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