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Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Update from Mark Desjardins

June 16, 2020

Dear SJS Parents,

As we continue to navigate the challenges of COVID-19, I write to provide an update on the progress of the Task Force which is working to prepare for the start of the school year. First and foremost, the health and safety of our school community is of paramount importance. Our goal is to start the school year on Wednesday, August 19, with all K-12 students and teachers in classes on campus while carefully adhering to health and safety protocols. Our intention is to conduct a regular school day with potential modifications to co-curriculars and extra-curriculars. At the same time, we recognize the fluid nature of COVID-19, and our plans must be flexible and adhere to established public health guidelines.

In May, I shared that this Task Force was formed to help develop a plan for our reopening, and the members of the Task Force have met several times to examine and discuss related issues. These plans involve: preparation of the physical facility for proper social distancing; necessary health guidelines and protocols; and enhanced technology to support instructional programming and synchronous learning.

In the next two weeks, we will share detailed information about how we will start the school year within each division, as well as provide FAQs and other pertinent information. Additionally, the Administrative team will host three separate webinars by division to share information and address questions that you might have.

I am pleased to report that the earliest stage of reopening campus started as of last week with limited outdoor strength and conditioning practices for varsity student athletes. These gatherings are closely monitored and adhere to the established guidelines received from public health officials.

We look forward to continuing our efforts to bring students back on campus safely and appreciate your support and understanding throughout this difficult time.

Sincerely,

Mark Desjardins

List of 13 items.

  • May 7 Message from Mark Desjardins

    Dear SJS Parents,

    As we move into the final weeks of the academic year, I wanted to share some important information related to how we are making preparations for the 2020-2021 school year in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Provided that we meet all the appropriate guidelines, it is our intention to start the school year with in-person and on-campus learning. There are many facets and complexities involved in a reopening scenario. In order to facilitate and address the issues related to starting the school year on campus, the Board of Trustees and Administrative team have created a Task Force to help plan the reopening of our school in August. Click here for members of the Task Force.

    The Task Force will work to develop a plan for reopening in late August and will prioritize the safety of the SJS community. In developing a plan, the Task Force will consider local data regarding the level of infection and rate of spread of the COVID-19 virus. It will be guided by recommendations of the CDC; applicable local, state, and federal authorities; and close consultation with friends in the Texas Medical Center. The Task Force will also review "best practices" being recommended, practiced, or considered by other schools and institutions. The plan will be tailored to our community and our situation, and it will be flexible enough to accommodate loosening or tightening of restrictions based on developments as we move through the school year. Our goal is to get a plan vetted and approved by the Board of Trustees in late June, and then the plan will be communicated to the broader school community.

    As we approach the end of the remote learning program, communication will be forthcoming from your student's division about plans for wrapping up the school year, including guidelines on returning materials to campus as well as gathering personal belongings.

    This past week, we began a virtual Chapel program, offering our students and families a continued time of reflection despite our inability to gather together as a community. With added music this week, it is a delight to listen to the US student virtual choir singing a lovely rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" in the MS/US Chapel video. In addition, your students will enjoy hearing the beloved Lower School closing song at the end of the LS Chapel Video. Both videos are available for you and your student by clicking on the following links: LS Chapel Video and MS/US Chapel Video.

    I would like to close by reporting some exciting news from beyond the Storied Cloisters. This week we have received the news of the accomplishments of two impressive alumni. Benjamin Moser '94 was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in Books, Drama & Music category for his novel titled Sontag: Her Life and Work. Additionally, Natasha Gonzalez '16 received a Fulbright Scholarship that she will use to teach English in Spain after her graduation from Harvard. Congratulations to both Benjamin and Natasha for these impressive accomplishments.

    In the meantime, I hope that you and your families stay safe and remain healthy.

    Sincerely,

    Mark Desjardins
    Headmaster
  • April 30 Message from Chief Advancement Officer

    It is wonderful to see the heart and soul of the St. John’s School community. This is especially true during challenging times. We have witnessed tremendous humanity during hurricanes, tragic family losses, and now again with the COVID-19. Not surprisingly, many in the St. John’s community have recently reached out to us about how they might be helpful and supportive. We recognize that the current environment has been particularly challenging for many. Even with that reality, we see incredible generosity. We have seen that there are people who can and want to be helpful now.

    There will be some economic headwinds that the School will face. Demand for financial aid will increase. Endowment yield will be down and operating support from the St. John’s Fund could be impacted. Fortunately, St. John’s has been prudent in creating operating reserves that will provide some help. In addition, discussions are already underway about how costs could be curtailed sensibly during this time. However, philanthropy will play a key role. The most comprehensive way to ensure that the School’s mission continues to be delivered at the highest possible level is to support the St. John’s Fund. The Fund helps everything from financial aid to program needs, technology, and faculty support.

    In a very short period of time, faculty pivoted aggressively to adapt to a remote learning program. Changing the way lesson plans are delivered continues to be a major undertaking for faculty with a great deal of work taking place behind the scenes to ensure success. Yet, they have remained dedicated. Now, more than ever, is a time to show them our support.

    Financial aid demand always spikes during economic crisis, and this pandemic will be no exception. Financial aid funds are available largely from the operating budget (as well as endowment), which is supported by the St. John’s Fund. Support of the St. John’s Fund could never be more helpful. We encourage your support within your ability to do so.
    Some have asked about how to support those community members most adversely impacted during this time, particularly those experiencing acute financial hardship. Fortunately, several years ago Headmaster Mark Desjardins established the Headmaster’s Student Assistance Fund to address financial needs that go beyond tuition assistance. This fund has grown over the years thanks to many generous members of the community. It was utilized during Hurricane Harvey to provide financial relief for students and their families, as well as faculty and staff members, during that time of need. If you wish to contribute to this fund, please click here.

    Thank you for your involvement, volunteerism, and generous support. We will get through this together. I am fortunate to have seen the wonderful strength and heart of the St. John’s community in challenging times, as well as philanthropy across the United States. I am confident that this will be the case now. As I have mentioned in previous letters to the community, adversity reveals true character and the St. John’s community is demonstrating that character and will again.

    Please do not hesitate to contact me, or any of the Advancement team members, if you have any questions or if we can be of assistance during this time.

    With gratitude,

    Mark Dini, CFRE
    Chief Advancement Officer
    mdini@sjs.org
  • April 28 Message from Mark Desjardins & Chris Curran

    Dear SJS Parents,

    We are grateful for those who took the time to respond and provide feedback regarding our continued efforts to navigate and enhance our remote learning program. We received 420 responses that were, for the most part, equally divided amongst all three divisions. In the coming days, your student's respective division head will be communicating any specific adjustments to our program as we finish out the school year.

    We did want to take the time to provide some high-level information and summary data regarding our institutional pivot to remote learning. In gauging the overall level of satisfaction on a scale of 1–5 (1 being dissatisfied and 5 being satisfied), our average score was 4.0. When asked about the most effective areas of our program, 75% of respondents intentionally chose to mark "providing connection with teachers," and 72% cited "demonstrating care of student well-being." While 50% were pleased with the level of engagement, we do acknowledge that this is an issue that warrants further discussion for continued potential adjustments.

    In addition to surveying parents, we also took the time to solicit input from our faculty and students in Classes 6–12. Our faculty reported similar themes to parents. They reported high levels of satisfaction related to feeling supported, but they also acknowledged the continued challenges involved in providing learning experiences that would elevate levels of student engagement.

    Students in Classes 6–12 took the student survey during advisory, and their responses were gratifying to read. Our faculty received high praise for providing a high level of support and connection with students, and the students were also appreciative of the care and attention faculty are giving to their well-being. When asked about their academic workload during remote learning as compared to regular school, 66% of Middle School students indicated they were doing about the same or slightly less work than during a typical school week. In answering the same question, 70% of Upper School students reported that they were working at the same level or slightly less in contrast to the change to remote learning. When asked to select three words to describe what school is like right now, three of the most common responses were "stressful," "weird," and "challenging." Other words that generated high usage were "lonely," "disconnected," "interesting," and "isolated."

    As we have mentioned in previous communications, our remote learning program is not a complete and full replacement for our face-to-face, on-campus experience. On-site learning allows us to have complete control over the learning environment. As many of you shared with us (as did our faculty), each family dynamic is unique. From parents working from home, to sharing work spaces with older siblings back from college or jobs, to increased obligations to take care of parents and relatives with underlying medical conditions, we do truly understand and appreciate that nobody has complete control over anything, much less a home-learning environment. As one educational expert noted, "Right now, we need the simplest and most effective methods for our students to achieve the resolution they desire as we seek to sustain the community and connections we have formed on campus." We are delighted that many of you have expressed your appreciation and support for what we have provided to date. Our goal is to continue to be reflective about our remote experience and make those necessary tweaks and adjustments that will improve upon what we are currently providing.

    While our focus has been largely directed toward this academic year, we are now beginning to turn our attention to the fall semester. We understand that public health officials will ultimately dictate the specific protocol by which we can gather on campus this August. At the same time, we can start to make plans that can mitigate the active spread of COVID-19 within our specific school population. To provide some greater insight into our thinking for the fall, we encourage you to take the time and listen to the iMav Radio Head Talk podcast. We cover more ground in greater detail than the written word will allow, and we hope our conversation will address some of the important topics and issues that were also raised within the survey.

    One of the silver linings of this pandemic has been the amount of uninterrupted family time that we have experienced. More than anything, this was repeatedly cited and lifted up as a positive outcome of this stressful and anxious time. For your benefit, at the end of this communication we listed some of the parent survey responses that we felt you might enjoy.

    With appreciation,

    Mark Desjardins        Chris Curran
    Headmaster               Associate Headmaster

    "One child has played chess remotely with friends, and one child is reading stories to younger friends and family members. We've become closer as a family; and actually, the kids are arguing less than they did before this started."

    "My 9th grade son is learning to be proactive with his assignments and feels like he has the ability to finish his work and still have free time."

    "In science, we have had 'nature walks' and things that require us to get up and out - otherwise we tend to try to stay put and power through. This remote learning has really helped me understand what is being taught...and where our child has problems...and hopefully will help me help him in the future."

    "Our US child commented on how much more sleep she is getting and how much more bandwidth she has to revise her work until she's pleased with the final product."

    "Honestly, the best thing about the last few weeks is NOT being bombarded with a million things. It has been the down time where we have watched movies and cooked and played games and just sat outside looking at the moon and the birds."
  • April 20 Message from Mark Desjardins & Chris Curran

    Dear St. John’s Parents,

    Based upon Governor Abbott’s Friday announcement regarding school closure, we are writing to share with you our plans for continued remote learning through the end of our school year concluding on Friday, May 22. While each division has a thoughtful and engaged parent focus group providing us with helpful feedback, we feel that this is an appropriate time to solicit the wider community for comments on what is working well and what additional adjustments we should consider. Our approach will be to survey all parents and faculty, and in addition we will seek feedback from all Middle and Upper School students. We will use this information as we continue to evaluate and adjust our programming, and we will share our findings and continue to keep you apprised of any additional adjustments. Please click here for the parent survey to complete by the end of day Friday, April 24.

    In our conversations with many of you, one common theme is the increased level of anxiety some of you have expressed relative to both the coverage of academic content and the extent to which your child might somehow be disadvantaged in their academic journey. As we finish out the year, please know that our faculty members continue to focus on teaching essential skills in the various content areas. In addition, for those of you who are returning to St. John’s next year, we will use the first days of school to conduct a comprehensive audit of skills from the previous spring that may need increased attention in our curricular progression. This information will be used to help inform any necessary adjustments to the delivery of content and instructional programming throughout the upcoming academic year.

    As you might imagine, this pandemic has wreaked havoc and created chaos throughout the educational landscape. Especially for high school students, there has been a great deal of disruption relative to standardized testing. The Advanced Placement (AP) exams have been significantly altered, ACT and SAT exams have been postponed, and many colleges have adjusted their admission criteria for the Class of 2021. These rapid-fire and ongoing changes have also led to heightened levels of uncertainty and anxiety. In order to help provide a proper parenting framework for these and the other varied COVID-19 distractions, we are leaning on our partnership with Stanford University-affiliated Challenge Success. We have arranged with them a webinar for parents on Wednesday, April 22 at 7:30 PM CS via Zoom. No pre-registration is required. Click here to join the webinar.

    Challenge Success - Navigating Remote Learning: A Webinar for K-12 Families: Many families are concerned about the impact that remote learning will have on their child’s academic journey and what role they should play along the way. Join us for a 30-45-minute webinar with Challenge Success to explore practical tips and guidelines for what families can do to best support student well-being and engagement with learning right now. There will be time for Q&A at the end.

    We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity and find it useful in how you approach navigating the challenges of this unusual time with your children.

    We understand and share in your disappointment that the school year is ending in a way that none of us would have ever imagined. Nevertheless, we remain fully committed to providing continued instruction, engagement, and encouragement as we work through the varied challenges this pandemic has created. Divisional teams have been hard at work reimagining their end-of-year celebrations and will remain in close communication with you.

    We also appreciate that every family is in a different place in dealing with these unforeseen circumstances. Our commitment remains focused on our mission to develop the whole child and work in partnership with you to ensure a productive and reflective educational outcome. We appreciate your continued patience, resolve, and support.

    Mark Desjardins       Chris Curran
    Headmaster              Associate Headmaster

  • April 17 Message from Mark Desjardins & John Moody

    Dear SJS Parents,

    The Board and the Administration are reaching out to our school community during a period of disruption, uncertainty, and stress that is far reaching and unique within all of our lifetimes. We know that this pandemic has impacted every family within our community without exception. In the short term, it has caused us to close our school campus and conduct all instruction online. It also precludes all non-classroom activities (chapel, athletics, and fine arts to name a few) and has led to the cancellation or deferral of many customary events and traditions that take place during this time of year. All of these activities are fundamental parts of our St. John’s experience, and we recognize that these changes to our normal routines and schedule are significant and continuing disappointments that are taxing on our parents and students.

    With respect to our academic mission, the Administration is working very hard to assure that the remote learning program does not compromise our commitment to academic excellence. Since our initial rollout, the Division Heads are giving regular weekly updates and are actively seeking ways to stay in touch with our parents to get real-time input and make appropriate adjustments to improve the overall remote learning experience. Our entire team is committed to providing the best possible conclusion to this school year, and we are proud of our faculty for the way they have stepped up to this unique and unanticipated challenge. Regarding the conclusion to this school year, we know that every family must be asking whether we will be able to reopen school in May. It would be premature to make that decision at this time, but rest assured that the safety of our SJS community will be the main driver of the decision, which will also be informed by guidance from the relevant governmental authorities.

    As we prepare for the 2020-21 school year, the Board and the Administration are pleased to announce a few specific steps that are being taken to provide some financial relief to our families. First, we will rescind 2020-21 tuition rate increases. This reduction back to 2019-20 tuition rates will be accomplished through an amendment to your 2020-21 contract. The School will provide additional communication once the amendment is available online for electronic signature. In addition, in recognition of the financial difficulties many families may be facing at this time, we are also increasing the amount budgeted for financial aid by 20% relative to pre-pandemic levels. The tuition freeze and increase in financial aid are two concrete steps being taken to address the financial stress and uncertainty on our families as a result of the pandemic. In addition, we have worked hard to find budget savings to offset the cost of these actions and have made a number of difficult but appropriate cost reductions. We are comfortable that we have achieved the proper balance of cost containment without jeopardizing our academic mission. As an example, we are continuing faculty raises that were already communicated, but the Administrative team is foregoing its raises. The revised school budget is balanced based on what we believe are reasonable and appropriate forecasts for the coming school year.

    In this current environment, we are very conscious of the incredible strength and resilience of our community. These are the greatest assets of our institution. We promise that we are focused on doing everything possible to deliver on our mission which is to provide a first-class education.

    Sincerely,

    Mark Desjardins      John Moody
    Headmaster             Chairman, Board of Trustees



  • April 8 Message About Graduation

    Dear Class 12 Parents,

    I wanted to follow up on Hollis Amley’s email sent to the senior class last night. We felt that they might appreciate some positive updates and reassurance that the special class events and ceremonies celebrating the seniors' accomplishments at St. John's will still occur. That being said, our goal is to have all of these events take place in August.

    While the COVID-19 pandemic has been truly disruptive to our community, there is no doubt that the Class of 2020 has been the most impacted. The time after spring break is when we get an opportunity to lighten the Class 12 academic workload and provide the space and opportunity for seniors to deepen their bonds with one another and their connection to being a Maverick through a series of long-standing rituals and traditions. For those of you, like me, who have had older children experience the joys of being a senior at St. John's, I know that the thought of missing out on this time is especially filled with disappointment.

    Our senior class ceremonies share a common theme which is the importance and power of community. Getting to participate in these traditions is a rite of passage that every senior deserves. To that end, COVID-19 permitting, we have put the following schedule together in order to lift up and celebrate the wonderful accomplishments and talented students that comprise the Class of 2020. We have consulted with several different constituencies as we reimagined these celebrations that are listed below. More information related to event detail, including times, locations, parking, etc., will be communicated as it is finalized. Event information will also be available on the Graduation 2020 quicklink on the website. In the meantime, please reserve these dates on your calendar:

    Thursday, August 6th: Senior Tea & College T-Shirt Day hosted by Senior Dads - (location: the Quad)

    Friday, August 7th: Faculty/Senior Dinner followed by the Senior Skit - lots of good new material for the writers (location: Flores Hall and Campus Center)

    Sunday, August 9th: Baccalaureate & Senior Celebration - this will be a more casual event serving as a time of reflection highlighting unique talents within the class. BBQ supper and yearbook signing immediately following the Baccalaureate ceremony (location: Skip Lee Field)*

    Monday, August 10th: Commencement - (7 PM - procession begins at 6:45 PM. Location: The Great Lawn)*

    Wednesday, November 25th: Class of 2020 Reunion/Celebration - live band, food, refreshments, and reflections (5-8 PM. Location: The Great Lawn/Flores Hall and Campus Center)

    *We anticipate that some degree of social distancing parameters will still be in place in August. Therefore, at this time, we are limiting seating at Baccalaureate and Commencement to immediate family members only. Should these parameters be lifted, the good news is that we will have the capacity to accommodate a much larger group at both events.

    In closing, I want to thank you for your patience, support, compassion, and grace as we work through the unprecedented nature of this crisis. I know that each of our families has been impacted in multiple ways. I remain hopeful that the timing of our rescheduled events will remain on track. I can’t think of a better way to get through this challenging time than to focus on when we will come together as a community to honor and celebrate the remarkable and deserving Class of 2020!

    Be safe,
    Mark Desjardins
  • March 31 Message to the Community

    Dear SJS Community,

    With today's announcement of the "stay home, stay safe" order remaining in effect through the end of April, St. John's School will extend its remote learning program until Monday, May 4.

    Your child's respective division head will continue to be in touch, and Class 12 parents and students will be receiving a message soon regarding plans for the Commencement ceremony.
  • March 16 Message from the Headmaster

    Dear St. John's Community,

    I am writing to update the community on the surreal and unprecedented impact of COVID-19. One of the most heroic figures emerging in our national efforts to address this pernicious virus is Dr. Anthony Fauci who recently commented about containment strategies by using Wayne Gretsky's words, "Skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.” We will be taking this advice.

    Given how rapidly evolving the situation has become, and understanding that many within our community are traveling over spring break, we will be adjusting the implementation of our distance-learning program by one week. In other words, we will "officially" start back with distance learning on Monday, March 30. We make this move to provide our faculty and parent community the opportunity to make the necessary adjustments for us to help "flatten the curve" of COVID-19. Having no official school responsibilities from March 23–27 is our attempt to give you the time to prepare for what will be a far more intensive and restrictive daily life experience than any of us had imagined even a few days ago.

    Your child's division head will be reaching out midway next week via email to communicate in greater detail what will take place. As of March 17, St. John's School administrators, faculty, and staff (with limited exceptions) will begin working remotely. On-campus operations will be essentially shut down in order to comply with state and federal recommendations to practice social distancing to help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In addition, our distance-learning program will continue through at least Friday, April 10. We join our colleagues from all Houston and surrounding-area public schools who recently made this decision as well.

    This is a difficult communication to write. We all have been impacted to varying degrees by the relentless and powerful spread of COVID-19. Like many of you, I worry about my parents whose current age makes them a prime target of this virus. I've had one son sent home early from college and a daughter who was ordered to work remotely in Midland, TX. My oldest daughter is self-quarantined in her apartment in San Francisco while her husband, a St. John's alum, is fighting this outbreak on the front lines as a medical resident in the ICU at The University of California at San Francisco. Finally, I have a son who is a senior at St. John's. It's been hard to communicate the avalanche of bad news that seems to roll out of my mouth on a regular basis. I know I'm not alone. Each adult reading this either has already been impacted or soon will be impacted – and perhaps in much more serious ways.

    Yet while it is challenging to deliver disappointing news, my heart is filled with admiration for so many within the St. John's community – including current parents, former parents, alumni, and grandparents – who are doing remarkable and amazing things every day to stem the tide of this outbreak. The collective power of the St. John's community will continue to unleash itself and steadfastly fight on until this contagion ceases to leverage its seemingly complete control of our lives.

    We need to support and lean on each other now more than ever. Our community is here for you, and we will continue to partner with you as we start truly to dig in. If you have not already read Peggy Noonan's most recent column in The Wall Street Journal, I offer it to you as a pastoral family reading. She puts things in perspective and provides one last piece of advice that would make even Dr. Fauci smile: “Don't ‘wash your hands’; wash your hands like Lady Macbeth with obsessive-compulsive disorder.”

    Be safe,

    Mark Desjardins
    Headmaster
  • March 12 Message from the Headmaster

    Dear St. John’s Community,

    I write to bring you up to date on the School’s approach to managing the COVID-19 outbreak. Please know that we continue to touch base with medical experts, peer institutions, and leadership from regional and national educational associations, and remain in constant contact with local and state public health officials. As we closely monitor the impact of COVID-19, I am at a loss to recall a situation in my 34-year career that has created this amount of uncertainty and presented such a variety of complex challenges. As one of my colleagues recently noted, “We are building the ship as it sails.”

    Given the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation, we believe that it is in the best interest of our community to cancel classes tomorrow, Friday, March 13. Also, in consideration of the widely planned travel that many of our families will undertake during spring break, we will cancel onsite academic classes the week of March 23-27. As such, students will be asked to bring books and study materials home so that they will be able to participate fully in a remote learning setting.

    The decision to cancel classes was not made lightly. I understand and appreciate that for many families this decision will be inconvenient and highly disruptive to your normal routines. Our primary motivation is to protect the health and safety of all members of our community. Following the recommendations of the CDC, the impetus of this decision is to limit large group gatherings and other meetings that require being indoors and in close proximity of others for prolonged periods of time. By doing so, we hope to contribute our part in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 within the larger Houston community.

    The plan for the week of March 23-27 is to engage students in our remote learning program. On Monday, March 23, and Tuesday, March 24, teachers will assign independent work for their students; then starting on Wednesday, March 25, teachers will begin a modified schedule to include online instruction for students. A detailed plan, including the status of extracurricular activities, will be addressed in forthcoming emails from each division head and will be posted on this webpage.

    In an effort to help us monitor the travel activity of our community over spring break, we ask SJS community members who will be traveling internationally to fill out this Google form.

    While we are certainly in uncharted waters, we are buoyed by the excellent work of our faculty and staff. They have worked tirelessly over the past several weeks to help keep our community safe and have strived to maintain a level of normalcy during this time of heightened anxiety. We have confronted difficult challenges before and have emerged stronger and more united as a community. I ask for your continued patience, empathy, and support as we work together to address and overcome this latest obstacle.

    With appreciation,

    Mark Desjardins       John Moody
    Headmaster             Chairman, Board of Trustees


  • March 8 Message from the Headmaster

    Dear St. John’s Community,
     
    We apologize for intruding upon your Sunday afternoon with this communication, but as the impact of the Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak continues to widen, we want to address international and domestic travel for spring break. We acknowledge the stress and uncertainty that many in our community are experiencing, especially those who are serving in the medical community and those individuals whose normal routines have already been disrupted.
     
    In light of the unusual nature of this outbreak, we have been speaking and consulting with colleagues across the country about how best to protect members of our community and mitigate the potential spread of this virus to the best of our ability. In consulting with the SJS Clinical Services Team and in keeping with the practice of using an abundance of caution, we are asking for your cooperation in adhering to the following travel protocol.
     
    INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL
    Following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we ask that you avoid personal travel to CDC Warning Level 3 areas (currently China, Iran, Italy, and South Korea) and Alert Level 2 areas (Japan). If you do intend to travel to these areas, we ask that you immediately contact the appropriate SJS division head since travel to these areas triggers the CDC’s 14-day self-quarantine period. While your child’s absence will be excused, we will need advance preparation to help generate an alternative plan for educational outreach during the time of self-quarantine. Please note that because of the inconvenience factor in preparing an alternative course of study, those families who choose not to inform us of their travel plans into CDC-elevated areas prior to their actual travel will not receive an “excused” absence. We truly appreciate your genuine cooperation and partnership with us.
     
    DOMESTIC TRAVEL UPDATE
    Based upon the advice and counsel we have received from both medical professionals and several of our peer associations in secondary and higher education, as of today we are canceling all school-related spring break travel, including athletic competitions, academic symposiums/contests, professional conferences, and any other St. John’s-related work. At the time of writing this message, states of emergency or public health emergencies have been declared for the states of California, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington.
     
    Please note: These decisions to cancel travel are not intended to generate panic or fear, but rather to mitigate any risk associated with this rapidly evolving situation. Limiting school-sponsored travel for now is one way to contribute to our national effort to contain the COVID-19 outbreak. Containment is the most effective strategy we have at our disposal, and effective adherence to this practice will have the most significant impact on the health and well-being of our students and the broader community.
     
    While the School takes no position on individual family decisions related to domestic travel, we advocate visiting local public health information sites to ascertain levels of risk and following the guidelines that they have created.
     
    For anyone traveling during spring break, whether student, faculty, or staff, please be sure to take any materials (books, laptop, etc.) you need to do your work in the event that changing circumstances could affect your ability to return to campus in the near term.
     
    FUTURE IMPLICATIONS
    As a reminder, tomorrow morning will be a K-12 delayed start at 9:30 A.M. due to a K-12 faculty meeting. Campus will not be open until 9:15 A.M. This includes all gates to the academic campuses. We will have a larger security staff present to help direct traffic, but anticipate higher traffic than usual. Tardies will not be counted tomorrow morning.

    The main purpose of tomorrow’s late start is to afford the entire faculty the opportunity to begin the process of coordinating our remote learning plan in the event that we are asked to close school. The specifics of this plan will be communicated soon. While the plan will not attempt to replicate the full school day, our objectives will be highly focused on delivering curricular content and maintaining a sense of community. We will have a predictable and structured sequence of learning activities Monday through Friday with at least two active online sessions per day. We have already benefited greatly from speaking with our colleagues across the globe who have been forced into prolonged remote learning situations. We plan to incorporate “lessons learned” from them as we design our own program. At the time of writing this message, we learned that Lakeside School in Seattle, whom we view as a peer institution, has closed and is implementing its distance learning program. We will have the benefit of working with them as we tweak our program.
     
    We appreciate your patience and empathy as we begin to undertake the challenges associated with this outbreak. Please continue to monitor this webpage for additional information and updates. We will do our best to limit communications to “essential” matters and continue to post important and relevant information on the Quicklink. Given the need for our families to start making the necessary adjustments related to spring break travel, we wanted to provide you with important information to guide your decision.
     
    Sincerely,
     
    Mark Desjardins
    Headmaster
  • March 4 Message from SJS Clinical Services Team

    March 4, 2020

    Dear SJS Community,

    We write to ensure you that our leadership team is carefully monitoring the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. As mentioned in earlier communication, our utmost priority is the physical and emotional health of our students, faculty, and staff and the broader St. John’s community. We also want to provide timely, effective, and data-driven communication to minimize fear and the dissemination of inaccurate information. Our partnership with you is critical as we navigate this evolving situation.

    What We Know:
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and state and local public health departments are excellent sources of up-to-date information. The following are highlights from these expert resources of what is currently known about this disease.

    The COVID-19 infection is caused by a newly identified coronavirus which likely came from an animal to human transmission in China in December 2019. Coronaviruses are respiratory viruses, and other strains can cause the common cold and rarely, more serious respiratory infections. Currently, over 80,000 people worldwide have been infected with this novel or new coronavirus strain. The risk of infection in the United States remains low.

    Common symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The infection has been more prevalent in adults with fewer than 2% of clinically detected infections occurring in children less than 14 years of age. More serious infections have developed in 16% of patients, and the vast majority of these patients have been over the age of 70. Currently, the fatality rate is 1.4%, and advanced age and pre-existing chronic illness have been contributing factors in these deaths.

    Transmission of the disease in the community is largely person-to-person. The virus is spread by respiratory droplets through coughing or sneezing and close contact (within three feet) of others. Another mode of transmission is through touching a contaminated surface followed by touching one’s face or mouth.

    What We Are Doing:
    We have instituted additional hygiene measures to address the spread of all viral respiratory infections, including influenza and the common cold. These measures are not specific to COVID-19. It will be helpful if you review these practices with your children and diligently practice and model them yourself. These include:
    • Emphasis on frequent and thorough handwashing
    • The use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (which is widely available on our campus)
    • Avoidance of touching the face and mouth
    • Frequent wiping of commonly touched surfaces with disinfectant
    • Encouraging proper “cough and sneeze” hygiene by using tissues followed by handwashing
    • Substitute “fist-bumps” for handshakes in social situations and following athletic competitions
    • Staying home if sick
    • Discouraging the use of face masks. There is no evidence that the use of face masks prevents healthy people from getting sick, and the use of face masks may limit the supply to healthcare providers who may need them.
    Travel During Spring Break and Beyond:
    Please refer to the CDC website for the most up-to-date travel advisories. It is important to recognize that the situation is evolving, and countries that fall under travel restrictions can change. As countries evaluate travel into and out of their regions, limitations and bans are being put into effect, often with little or no prior warning. Please give careful consideration to your travel plans over spring break and beyond.

    Currently, there is no restriction for travel within the United States. At this time, there is no plan to cancel SJS athletic team trips over spring break; travel is within the continental United States. We will continue to monitor any recommendations from the CDC or health departments regarding travel restrictions and will communicate any changes if they become necessary.

    Working Together as a Community:
    Thank you for your continued support and partnership as we navigate this situation. Please continue to visit the Quicklink on the SJS website for posting of updated communication and helpful resources.

    Regards,

    Tesa Stark, MSN, CPNP, Director of Clinical Services
    Staci DeGregori, RN, Middle School Nurse
    Lorri Wolff, RN, Lower School Nurse
    Scott Dorfman, M.D., Medical Director
  • March 4 Message to the Community

    Dear SJS Community,

    As we continue to monitor Coronavirus (COVID-19), the School's top priorities include the physical and emotional health of our students, faculty, and staff and the broader St. John's community. We also want to provide timely, effective, and data-driven communication to minimize fear and the dissemination of inaccurate information.

    On Monday, March 9, there will be a K-12 delayed start at 9:30 AM due to a meeting for teaching faculty. Do not drop off early; campus will be inaccessible and drop-off will not begin until 9:15 AM. This meeting will allow for necessary contingency planning as related to delivering educational programming online in the event that there is the need for a prolonged school closure. When these plans are finalized, they will be shared with the community.

    In the next 24 hours, you will be receiving an email from the SJS Wellness team about COVID-19. In addition, please continue to monitor this webpage for any additional resources.

    We continue to monitor this highly fluid situation and ask for your continued patience and partnership as we work through the potential implications of how the virus may impact our community.
  • March 2 Message from the Headmaster

    Dear SJS Community,

    Even though there have been no reported cases of the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in Houston, I write to reassure our community that we are carefully monitoring this highly fluid situation. We remain in close contact with officials from the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) and the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS), and we are monitoring communications from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local public health authorities. Please visit the links provided on the right for more information on this topic.

    Per the information we have collected, we strongly encourage everyone to continue practicing diligent, healthy hygiene as we remain in the midst of cold and flu season. You can help prevent the spreading of viral infections by adhering to standard protocol of washing hands and avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. Most importantly, keep your children home if they are ill and do not allow them to return to school until they are symptom free for a period of 24 hours. Please do not hesitate to seek out the nurse in your child's respective division if you have specific questions.

    We will continue to monitor this situation and be in touch with any important updates. This Quicklink will serve as a conduit of important and timely information related to COVID-19. In addition, members of the School's leadership team will be meeting in the coming days to review various contingency plans related to the possible spreading of this virus. This will include developing a plan for continuing educational outreach in the event of a prolonged school closure. Those plans will be made available to you once they are finalized.

    Concerns for the safety and well-being for all members of our community continue to be and will always remain our highest priority. I can assure you that every decision we make will be made out of an abundance of caution for the purpose of reducing risk, which stems from our responsibility and duty to protect both our students and members of the St. John's community.

    Sincerely,

    Mark Desjardins
    Headmaster

St. John's School

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