Letter from Christopher L. Gunnin

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.

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

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


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

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

Christopher L. Gunnin
Head of School
St. Stephen’s Episcopal School
6500 St. Stephen’s DriveAustin, TX 78746