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Reopening School Fall 2020

*This page was updated on August 2. Please check back for updates.*

August 2 Message from Mark Desjardins

Dear SJS Parents,

I am writing to provide additional information regarding the launch of our remote learning program, Virtual@SJS, which begins on Wednesday, August 19. You will be receiving more detailed information regarding the daily schedule for Virtual@SJS later this afternoon from your child’s division head. As we continue to navigate the challenges related to COVID-19, we understand that there may be individual circumstances that will dictate a decision for a student to continue to learn remotely even when we return to campus. It is important to note that the on-campus experience cannot be easily replicated, yet we remain committed to assisting and serving those students who need to remain in a remote learning setting for a longer period of time.

As you will learn in each divisional communication, remote learning this fall will be significantly enhanced from last spring, particularly as it relates to the design of the schedule, with more intentional touchpoints, classes that meet more frequently, the inclusion of co-curricular programs, as well as Chapel services and assemblies. In addition, the School has invested in an expanded digital toolkit to include technology that enables a more dynamic virtual experience.

As noted in our previous communication, the School’s decision to postpone in-person learning until September 8 is contingent upon improved COVID-19 conditions in Houston. We will carefully monitor the situation over the next several weeks and anticipate announcing on August 24 whether or not we will need to postpone in-person learning beyond September 8.

In order to help us plan the best possible experience for students, we ask families who are certain they will not be able to return to in-person learning for the foreseeable future to complete this form by August 10. While we are committed to serving all students, those who remain in the extended remote learning program will not be able to participate in any on-campus activity, including athletics and fine arts.

In the midst of our planning, there has been one constant theme and that is the ever-changing dynamics that COVID-19 presents. The highly fluid nature of this pandemic requires us to remain flexible and adaptable. I can assure you that in the coming weeks and months ahead we will have to be ready to pivot and adjust. We are extremely fortunate with the configuration of our campus and the talent and expertise of our community that we have been able to prepare for a variety of different circumstances. As we have mentioned from the outset, the health and safety of our students, families, faculty, and staff remain at the forefront of all our efforts and decision making.

Thank you for your continued patience, support, and involvement as we get ready and look forward to a new school year.

Mark Desjardins

July 30 Update:

Click here to watch the July 15 video from Mark Desjardins.


We are committed to delivering the St. John's School mission through an educational experience deeply rooted in on-campus programming while also supporting those who are unable to be on campus due to illness or significant health risks. In order to safely reopen campus, we are assessing information, acting decisively, and developing guidelines and procedures in service of our community.

The following principles guide our plan for reopening campus:
  • Protect the health and safety of students and staff
  • Be compliant with government orders and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services
  • Establish effective use of spaces to support physical distancing across campus 
  • Provide a school day experience with a variety of familiar routines

Divisional information:

FAQs — Expand for more information:

List of 14 frequently asked questions.

  • Q. What can I do to support a healthy campus?

    Our return to campus will demand shared accountability from all SJS families in supporting the SJS Health & Safety Protocols. The School is working diligently to reopen campus as safely and smoothly as possible; we are counting on you to do your part to support this process. Keeping your children home when they're not feeling well is essential. Additionally, prepare your child that some school routines will be the same and some will be different. Encourage your children to be flexible and resilient as they navigate new routines and challenges. We ask you to partner with the School to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses by: 

    Maintaining preventative health practices:
    • Continue regular doctor visits and well-child appointments.
    • Keep immunizations and physicals current.
    • Encourage lots of physical activity and time outside.
    Keeping your child emotionally safe:
    • Ask how they are feeling and give them space to share and ask questions.
    • Maintain at-home routines to provide stability.
    • Continue reassuring them that the adults in their lives are there to support their well-being, both physically and emotionally.
    Teaching and encouraging health and hygiene protocols:
    • Visually show and practice keeping 6 feet apart.
    • Practice wearing a cloth face covering.
    • Encourage frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizer.
    • Practice coughing and sneezing into elbows.
    • Add daily temperature checks to your morning routine.
  • Q. Which SJS community members are helping advise our plans for reopening campus?

    Task Force Members: Responsible for logistical operations
    • Mark Desjardins, Headmaster
    • Chris Curran, Associate Headmaster
    • Tom McLaughlin, Head of Lower School
    • Richard Still, Director of Safety & Facilities & Physical Plant
    • Tesa Stark, Director of Clinical Services
    • John Moody, Chairman of the Board of Trustees
    • Angela Fullen, Trustee and parent
    • Karen Lu, Trustee and parent
    • Richard McGee, Trustee and parent
    Medical Advisory Team: Responsible for advising the Task Force on health and safety
    • Julie Boom, MD General Pediatrics
    • Scott Dorfman, MD SJS Medical Director
    • Lisa Ehrlich, MD Internal Medicine
    • Karen Lu, MD Trustee and Task Force member
    • Sam Shelburne, MD Infectious Disease
    • Tesa Stark, CPNP SJS Director of Clinical Services
  • Q. What will school hours be?

    Each division will follow its normal, 7-day rotation schedule.
    • Lower School: 8:15 am – 3:15 pm*
    • Middle School: 8:30 am – 3:45 pm**
    • Upper School: 8:30 am – 3:35 pm
    *SJS has partnered with iKids to offer an on-site, after-school care program from 3:15–6:00 pm for Lower School students and their Middle School siblings. Please see the After-School Program/iKids section on the Lower School page for more details.

    **Study Hall will be offered for Middle School students with new regulations. More information is forthcoming.

    Note: Parents should expect less flexibility with early drop-off and late pick-up.
  • Q. Will the School offer food services?

    As we start the year, our food services program and cafeteria will be closed. Students will be required to bring lunch and a water bottle from home each day. Students will eat in the classrooms and take advantage of eating outdoors when weather permits.
  • Q. Will the School offer fine arts and athletics programs this year?

    No decisions have been made yet about interscholastic athletics, but we are in frequent contact with the Southwest Preparatory Conference (SPC), the Houston Junior Preparatory Conference (HJPC), and other peer schools about what might be feasible for this fall and beyond. Whatever those decisions, we are fully committed to offering some athletic programming that will meet the needs of all our students while satisfying the guidelines provided by the state and local agencies and our safety protocols. We will have more information about the likelihood of interscholastic athletics later this summer.

    Fine Arts:
    The School recognizes the importance of our curricular and co-curricular Fine Arts programs and is thinking creatively about how we will continue to offer them to K-12 students. All Middle and Upper School Fine Arts classrooms and ensemble areas will be structured with appropriate 6’ or 10’ physical distancing. Fine Arts classes in Lower School will take place in homerooms. There will be no shared supplies within the classes, and each student will be provided with a folder, sleeve, or canvas bag for supplies. For band, orchestra, dance, and choir, all performances will be recorded and available online. Theater productions will be live and focus on multiple performances with smaller casts. The theater season selections have been chosen to allow for a variety of contingency plans. As plans continue to be finalized, information about additional Fine Arts programming will be forthcoming. Please click here for audition information.

    Private Music Lessons:
    Individual piano lessons will continue to be taught online. Beginner Piano for Lower School students will be limited to 4 students per class and held in a location that will allow for proper physical distancing. Disinfection protocols will be in place for piano keyboards. Plans for other private instrument lessons have not yet been determined.
  • Q. What if a student needs to visit the nurse for clinical services?

    SJS will have a K-12 temporary clinical space located in Stasney Hall. This clinic will be divided into two separate spaces with distinct entrances for sick and well students. A nurse will be assigned to either the sick or well side for the duration of the day to minimize the spread of illness.
  • Q. How will the School support my child during times of absence?

    We recognize that students often try to push themselves to attend class when not feeling well. Either they do not want to miss out on an activity or they feel an absence will create an insurmountable setback or volume of work. Faculty will have access to new technology that will enable them to engage the student in virtual instruction, especially in cases of a long-term absence. Rest assured that teachers will be understanding and supportive in accommodating absent students.
  • Q. What role do parents play in daily health screenings for their children?

    We recognize parents are the experts when it comes to knowing their children, and we will rely heavily on your judgment when it comes to your children's daily health status. We ask parents to keep their children home when they are not feeling well and to screen their children daily, including temperature checks. The School will also be taking measures to screen students' temperatures while on campus. Details and instructions regarding the specifics on daily screenings will be shared at a later date.
  • Q. Will students be required to wear face masks?

    The School views the use of face coverings as an important way that we as a community can slow the spread of the virus and protect one another. Due to the current situation in our community, all persons on campus will be required to have a face covering. Please prepare your child that a face covering will be utilized throughout the day.
  • Q. What if a student has symptoms, has exposure, or contracts COVID-19?

    We expect parents to remain in close communication with the School's Clinical Services team. If your child is exposed to or contracts COVID-19, please email nurse@sjs.org or call 713-850-0222 x 290. The School will work closely with the family, the Medical Advisory Team, and the Harris County Health Department to help guide the decision about when a student can return to school.
  • Q. Will parents be notified if a student or staff member is diagnosed with COVID-19?

    The School will base its communication on the Harris County Health Department's guidelines. Communication regarding COVID-19 health alerts in our community will be HIPAA compliant.
  • Q. Will the School allow volunteers or visitors to campus?

    In order to minimize risk and maintain a healthy environment, we will begin the school year by strictly limiting access to campus buildings to students, teachers, and essential staff. While we understand that community members may be disappointed by this restriction, we will not be able to host our usual parent gatherings or volunteer opportunities at the beginning of the school year.
  • Q. What if I do not see an answer to my question on this site?

    Be sure to check the Lower, Middle, and Upper School webpages for more information. If you still have a question, please send an email to questions@sjs.org.

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