The team at St. Johnsbury Academy continues to develop thoughtful, responsible, and balanced plans as we maneuver through the 2020-2021 school year in accord with the Vermont Department of Health and Agency of Education Guidance for A Strong and Healthy Start, CDC guidelines, other official and expert advice, and the good thinking that is happening across the world. It is our goal to offer our students the best possible SJA experience while keeping them safe and protecting our communities.
Our work has focused on ways to maintain and even build on the Academy’s unique daily life, culture, and mission in this unprecedented and unpredictable time. Thank you for partnering with us and helping to keep our community safe.
Please feel free to send questions to me using this form.
Dr. Sharon Howell
St. Johnsbury Academy Community Commitment
Life at the Academy looks different as we work together to make our campus as safe as possible for in-person teaching and learning during this global pandemic. Our mission remains to help each student become the best person, the best learner, and the best community member they can be — and our collective dedication to that mission, and its promises to our students, is more important than ever.
Each of us needs compassion and respect right now, and how we model responsibility and integrity will resonate into the future. Our current predicaments are the best evidence of how critical it is for our teachers to keep doing their good work — helping students pursue knowledge, approach problems creatively, and understand their education as a rising path both to self-reliance and to equity of all kinds. Perhaps the deepest lessons of this moment lie in recognizing the power of our relationships and the inescapable connectedness of our lives.
Confronting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic while also staying true to our values will require trust and partnership among us all — faculty and staff, students, parents, and the larger community. That is why we are asking everyone in our school community to commit to doing what is necessary to keep one another as safe and healthy as we can. Change and uncertainty can be hard, but if our desire is to be and stay together this year, there are very specific things that we can do to minimize risk and help protect each other.
We are all in this together
We are asking everyone to help us comply with those public health measures that have been shown to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to help communities stay safe. Some may already be part of your routines, and others will be important to learn.
- Wearing masks: There is wide consensus that masks reduce transmission, and in keeping with the current Vermont State mask mandate (as of August 1), we are requiring that every member of the community wear a mask or other facial covering when on campus. Mask wearing is non-negotiable for in-person participation in any activity on campus, and we will have masks available for those who need them.
- Physically distancing: We have made changes to campus density, layout, and navigation that will help us to be mindful of our distance from others. We know it can be hard to keep the recommended 6 feet or more of distance between us, but we need to do our best. Posted signs, repositioned furniture, distance markers, and other directions will support your effort to distance in our campus spaces, as will moving some activities outdoors.
- Cleaning and Disinfecting: we will be cleaning and disinfecting communal surfaces often, filtering indoor air, and providing hand sanitizing stations in convenient locations around school. We also encourage everyone to acquire the habit of washing hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
- Limiting travel and exposure: We will be adhering strictly to the state’s guidelines about quarantines and testing, so as we begin the year and throughout the fall we will expect everyone to avoid unnecessary travel to places requiring quarantine upon return. We will also be limiting visitors to campus to those with specific needs to be here, and strictly limiting off-campus trips.
- Staying Home When Sick: The best way to avoid exposing others to the virus is to stay home if you have symptoms. Our academic classes will be offered both in person and online in a hybrid mode, and no student will be penalized for staying home to attend class virtually. We will screen all who come to campus, and anyone with symptoms or known exposure will be asked to return home before entering campus.
- Working together: We are likely to have a case of COVID-19 in the school community at some point. In that event, we will follow protocols developed with the help of infectious disease experts — including dedicated isolation space, testing, and contact tracing — and work closely with the Vermont Department of Health and our local health partners to determine a response in accord with the state’s guidelines. Health officials will need all of our help with contact tracing, and with understanding that we have significant constraints about what can be shared publicly about an individual’s health. And you can help school officials by understanding that different situations may call for different responses, and a positive case in the community will not automatically be considered cause for emergency action. At the same time, we will not hesitate to move school online — something we are prepared to do smoothly — if we determine that is the appropriate response.
Some have shared concern about the ability of kids, even teenagers, to wear masks and keep distance from one another consistently — and we know that students’ compliance with these precautions will determine their success. St. Johnsbury Academy is guided by a deep optimism about young people; we believe that students learn from and follow examples they respect, and can often surprise us by rising to high expectations. The more adults make the right behaviors part of our “common daily business,” and model healthy practices, the more we hope students will work with us to do the same—and even take the lead in helping their peers.
Safety remains an overarching priority in this time of pandemic. But teaching, learning, and connecting in this inimitable community is our reason for being. We cherish, and yearn to return to, what we love about SJA — the traditions, habits of life, and simple joys. Our serious and shared commitment to a successful school year, and our understanding that we share the responsibility for that success despite the risks of the moment, are what will make us successful.
Updates to Academy Families
from Headmaster Dr. Sharon Howell
Update to Academy Families — October 13, 2020
Dear St. Johnsbury Academy Families,
I want to offer a couple of timely updates today, particularly on developments in the last day or so that could affect our families, and that we are monitoring and looking to understand in terms of possible impact.
COVID in New Hampshire
The most significant of these is that this morning several New Hampshire counties reported an increase in COVID-19 cases, putting them in the “yellow” and “red” zones as defined by our Department of Health.
Fortunately, according to the ”Traveling to Vermont” guidelines, our day students can still travel back and forth daily from these counties to come to school despite these changes. The guidelines for travel from out of state read:
People traveling for essential purposes, including work, do not need to quarantine. Essential travel includes travel for personal safety, medical care, care of others, parental shared custody, for food, beverage or medicine, to attend preK-12 school and college if commuting daily, or to perform work for businesses that are currently allowed to operate. Individuals engaged in a daily commute to and from their job are expressly exempt from the need to quarantine by Executive Order.
We are continuing to work on how to anticipate any other travel complications that could arise, but in the meantime, please continue to refer to the guidelines and to the Cross State Travel information at the Agency of Commerce and Community Development when making decisions about travel.
Of course, we should also hear this news about the increased COVID cases so close to us as a caution against letting our guard down. Following our health and safety measures is still the best way to prevent the virus from coming to our campus, so please help us by being extra careful (e.g. masks go over the nose!).
October Break Reminder
Please remember that we’ve added some off-campus time into the end of this week.
Wednesday, 10/14: PSAT and SAT testing day, and a day off for students other than test takers.
Thursday, 10/15: All online with regular Thursday class schedule
Friday, 10/16: In-Service Day for faculty, Day off for students
Monday, 10/19: Holiday for all
Our Academic Office will be sending midterm grade reports and narratives next Friday, October 23rd.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions, and we will stay in touch.
Dr. Sharon Howell
Update to Academy Families — October 9, 2020
Dear St. Johnsbury Academy Families,
Yesterday afternoon and evening, many of you will have had the chance to connect with the teachers of your students during our virtual Meet the Teachers conferences. I hope that in your meetings with faculty you got a sense of just how dedicated they are to the growth and development of your children — these young people in whose success we are all invested. What we’re being required to do as a school to be open, safe, and worthwhile for students is strenuous, but what I see and hear from faculty, staff, and students alike is that our time together has tremendous value — and for some students there are upsides and opportunities where we would never have expected them.
I want to update you on a few important things — including a few adjustments coming up in our calendar — and appreciate in advance your flexibility and help. We recently realized that in the course of shifting our dates for the semester, October break was written out of the fall calendar. But there’s a reason that we usually have one! So we have put some respite back into the mix, not only to have a much-needed breather but also to allow some critical campus improvements to happen while we’re out of the buildings. Here’s what it looks like.
Wednesday, October 14th: PSAT/SAT Testing day
All students except junior and senior test takers are OFF
Virtual Academy teacher conferences
Thursday, October 15th
ALL Students ONLINE for regular full-day schedule
Friday, October 16th: “In-Service” Day
Faculty write narratives and reports for midterm
Students and staff have day off
Monday 19th: HOLIDAY for all
Tuesday 20th: Quarter 2 classes begin
We will keep to the regular weekly schedule and have our morning online on Friday, October 23rd. We very much hope that this extra day of rest will help us all return refreshed for the start of the 2nd quarter.
Virtual Academy Conferences and Virtual Boarding Parents’ “Weekend” — Dean of International Students Kendra Brazeau and her team of Virtual Academy teachers will be available to meet with parents of Virtual Academy students on the morning of Wednesday October 14th. Please watch for communication about this if you are among the Virtual Academy families. We are also planning to put together a short weekend program for all other boarding parents to replace the usual parents’ weekend opportunity. We will have more details on that program soon, and will communicate about signing up so you have plenty of lead time.
Travel Options for Thanksgiving and Winter Break — we have offered some different options to boarding families for travel over the coming breaks*, but I also want to remind day families that they need to continue to follow the Vermont State guidelines on travel outside the state, and if necessary, to quarantine for the required amount of time once they return. If you do choose to travel, we will ask you to finish the remainder of the term online. The world is changing fast, so we don’t know what things will look like at Thanksgiving, but we will hope that most students will be able to be here in person up until the December break — and to do that we will need families to be attentive and to work with us on following the right guidelines and staying safe.
Students Engaging and Attending During Online Days — we’ve been having difficulty helping some students to stay engaged while joining their classes online. We want to be clear that we are requiring students to check in and be in class during the online days — even if their teachers offer them asynchronous work to complete, they need to stay engaged and be included in attendance for their classes. Tracking student whereabouts could become critical in the case of contact tracing, but we also want to encourage respect for teachers and advisors, so please help us to keep students on track during “at-home” days, and remember that they are still accountable for being “in school” on those days.
Waiting Space in Cold Weather — we are working to find solutions for those students who arrive on campus earlier and leave later than our buildings are fully open, including using the library in the afternoon and the dining hall in the mornings. Know that we are aware this is an issue, and don’t want students to be left in the cold! We will guide students to go to spaces that are appropriate so they can stay warm and even do work after school in amenable spaces.
Physical Distancing Reminder — Tuesday the Agency of Education clarified that we are still required to maintain the 6-foot physical distancing requirement even as we have moved to “Step III.” We appreciate all you’re doing to make sure that students are healthy when they get here — COVID response coordinator Jack Driscoll tells us that we haven’t had even one student arrive with a fever — and hope you will help us reinforce the messages about distancing and also proper mask-wearing…which includes putting the mask up over your nose!
Civil Discourse — as we arrive in a contentious election season and watch political events unfold over the coming weeks, I want to remind families that we are committed to creating the conditions for students to encounter history, active citizenship, political science, and cultural literacy in a way that helps them to learn from us and from each other, but without hearing personal political views expressed in ways that might discourage free and open discussion. Our teachers are especially eager to provide historical and philosophical frameworks for our students to understand what’s happening today in its full, often complex, context; and they will be doing that in a number of forums. We are putting emphasis on these respectful conversations now and will continue to do so—hoping as ever to help students to disagree productively and make their way toward facts and truth through a charged atmosphere.
It has been joyful to watch our students in athletics over the last weeks, and I look forward to seeing clubs, such as Robotics and Theater, begin their work soon as well. Thank you as always for partnering with us not just to get through the pandemic but to thrive and find opportunities for special success. Just yesterday, Nelson Eaton, son of our Interim Academic Dean Hank Eaton, won the State Championship in golf despite having to play in the pouring rain. If that’s not an apt metaphor for us all in this moment, I don’t know what is.
Dr. Sharon Howell
*Travel Guidelines for Boarding Families
Option 1: Stay on Campus
Students will stay on campus for both Thanksgiving and Christmas Breaks. They will begin the spring semester on time on Tuesday, January 12.
Option 2: Return Home for the Holiday Break Only
Students will stay on campus for Thanksgiving break, complete the final three weeks of the fall semester, and then return home or go to an approved family/friend’s home. Students may depart beginning on Friday, December 18, and return to campus in January on assigned dates that will be provided once we know your travel plans. Quarantine will be required for those students flying, taking public transportation, or coming from areas from which the State of Vermont requires quarantine.
Option 3: Return Home for Thanksgiving Break, Remain Home Until January
Students will return home beginning Tuesday, November 24 for Thanksgiving Break, and then complete the final three weeks of the fall semester synchronously for classes and exams. Synchronous classes require students to sign-in during the class time scheduled here on campus. Student will return to campus in January on assigned dates that will be provided once we know your travel plans. Quarantine will be required for those students flying, taking public transportation, or coming from areas from which the State of Vermont requires quarantine.
Option 4: Return Home for Thanksgiving Break, Return to School after Thanksgiving
Those students living in “green” areas as defined by the Vermont Department of Health may go home for Thanksgiving Break beginning Tuesday, November 24 and then return to school on Sunday, November 29. Students will attend classes and take exams in person, and then leave for Holiday Break beginning on Friday, December 18. Students returning to school must not be exposed to people from areas that require quarantine according to the Vermont Department of Health. By choosing this option, families agree to abide by the Vermont Department of Health quarantine requirements.
Please explain the latest updates (9/4/20) on students or family members with COVID-19 symptoms?
Because of the very low rate of COVID-19 cases, the Vermont Department of Health and our local pediatricians suggest that healthy asymptomatic students can attend school even if there is a person with illness symptoms at home. That recommendation excludes students with a known COVID-19 exposure or recent high-risk travel. Students with a single symptom (fever < 24 hours, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, fatigue, diarrhea, or headache) can return to school 24 hours after symptom improvement or resolution without a COVID test.
To be clear, if the rates of COVID-19 increase and as we learn more about the need (or no need) for testing, we will make changes.
The health office will continue to monitor each student who reports illness and work with their families and primary care physician to help them return to school safely.
As a reminder, students should STAY HOME if they have any of the symptoms listed.
We will ask parents to monitor their children prior to coming to school and staff should monitor themselves:
Fever (100.4° Fahrenheit or higher), chills, or shaking chills
Cough (not due to other known cause, such as chronic cough)
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
New loss of taste or smell
Headache when in combination with other symptoms
Muscle aches or body aches
Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
Fatigue, when in combination with other symptoms
Nasal congestion or runny nose (not due to other known causes, such as allergies) when in combination with other symptoms
Been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID
Traveled to a high risk area in the last 14 days
How was it decided to split the day school population by alphabet and not by class?
To decrease the density of each classroom, we were unable to split the student body by graduation class. Because most classrooms have students from the same grade and we are required to achieve the 6-foot distance requirement, we needed to split the individual classroom student size in half. The class will run as normal, with half of the class sitting in-person, while the other half remotes in. Those students remoting in will still be active participants in the class and will need to attend at the regular class time schedule for attendance purposes. This will also keep students on a normal schedule.
Which days will day students attend in person?
We have used the alphabet as a starting point to build our green and white cohorts, who will attend school in person, on campus, on alternate days from Monday-Thursday. All students will be online on Friday mornings. We will balance the numbers in each cohort based on multiple factors such as section size, family coordination, resident student attendance, and other specific needs—but by and large you can assume your cohort from your last name. Here is how the week will look:
Monday and Wednesday: Green Cohort (approximately A-K) on campus; White Cohort (approximately L-Z) online.
Tuesday and Thursday: White Cohort (L-Z) on campus; Green Cohort (A-K) online.
Fridays: mornings online with abbreviated class periods, from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.; afternoon optional projects starting at 1:30 p.m. for students in CTE, arts, and other hands-on courses.
Specific details will follow about Fridays. We are reaching out to those students with specific needs to make sure they are accommodated properly, including those with internet access difficulties. We have clear parameters to determine those students who will need be on campus daily. To submit questions or requests, please be sure to use this form.
Can you explain how you came up with the daily schedule?
In an effort to make our schedule more predictable and easier to manage week to week, instead of rotating our green and white groups every other day, we will do the following:
- One group will join us on campus Mondays and Wednesdays, and the other group on Tuesdays and Thursdays, each week.
- On Fridays, we will go remote in the morning, offering a half day of short period, all-online classes. This will be followed by a flexible afternoon with opportunities for teachers to have individual meetings with students, or for students in sciences, arts, and/or CTE courses to come to campus on alternate weeks to work on projects and other enrichment activities.
One size does not fit all when it comes to creating reasonable plans. Much of our work has been to understand what the current crisis will require from St. Johnsbury Academy, in particular, and to adapt and interpret official public health mandates to fit the Academy’s unique daily life, culture, and mission.
Will my day student have downtime during the online school days?
Day students studying on remote days will be required to attend their normal classes at the regular time via Zoom. The school day runs from 7:55 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day. Students are expected to attend the full day and attendance will be taken.
If we have unreliable internet access, can you suggest alternative options?
We are conscious of those students who have struggled with reliable internet access. Here are a few possible ways to mitigate this issue:
Students without internet service will be able to come to campus daily, and on online days will join their classes remotely from a designated, supervised area on campus. Again, we will reach out to those of you we are aware of, but please reach out to us if this is a hardship for you.
Students can access the internet from alternate spaces in communities such as libraries, that are nearer their homes.
The Department of Public Service has introduced the Line Extension Customer Assistance Program (“LECAP”) provides up to $3000 in assistance to qualifying and eligible consumers who seek to extend telecommunications lines to their homes. Hundreds of Vermonters without 25/3 Mbps broadband service live just beyond the reach of current cable and other Internet Service Providers’ networks. We hope this might help connect some families.
What measures are being put in place to protect the health and safety of the community?
We have established a team of campus life, health center, and facilities staff who will be continuing to develop protocols and clear guidance for all of us around community wellness. The team consists of:
Dr. Sharon Howell, Headmaster
Beth Choiniere, Assistant Head for Campus Life
Jack Driscoll, Dean of Students
Sarah Garey, Director of Health Services
Kurt Zschau, Director of Facilities
Plans are in place to monitor comprehensive measures regarding recommended use of physical spaces and campus facilities, screening and reporting policies, and changes in on-campus behaviors, some of which are now familiar to all and some of which will require orientation and education. These measures meet and exceed the recommendations of the Vermont Department of Health, and include:
Mask wearing—We will require all faculty, staff, and students to wear facial coverings while in buildings, as well as in other settings, or outside where reasonable physical distancing cannot be maintained. Adults dropping off and picking up students should wear facial coverings. Instructions for making, wearing, and washing facial coverings can be found on the CDC website. We ask that students bring their own masks, but we will provide reusable masks at orientation and disposable masks throughout the year as they are needed.
Hand washing—additional hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer will be installed in classrooms, dorms, and other public spaces.
Social distancing—we will expect all to practice social distancing. We are reconfiguring classrooms and other spaces to allow for reasonable distancing, and analyzing what that means for our dining hall, field house, buses, and larger public spaces.
Limited gatherings—we will follow evolving state guidelines and consider the limitations of our physical spaces in limiting the number of people allowed to gather.
Use of outdoor spaces—our faculty and staff are looking at options for conducting classes and activities outdoors when possible as research shows being in fresh air mitigates the spread of the virus.
Evaluating HVAC systems and ventilation—there is good guidance and support for improving systems to conduct and circulate fresh air indoors.
Increased disinfecting and cleaning—our facilities team has already put protocols in place for cleaning and disinfecting at the recommended levels and frequencies.
Daily screening—all students will be screened daily for temperature and symptoms of COVID-19—staff and faculty will continue to self-screen and report.
Encouraging staying home when sick—we will insist that boarding students with any symptoms related to COVID-19 be isolated and cared for in a dedicated spot away from the center of campus with private baths, proctor presence, and access to pediatric care until they have recovered and can return to school. Faculty, staff, and day students will be required to return home if symptoms are present and seek medical support from their primary doctors.
Testing, quarantine, and travel restrictions—we are planning to stagger arrival of boarding students within a timeframe that will enable them to quarantine according to state mandates. Day students who have visited or are traveling from non-approved counties as indicated by the State of Vermont (https://accd.vermont.gov/covid-19/restart/cross-state-travel) will need to quarantine at home prior to coming to school.
Response to infection on campus—we are developing our response to infection on campus and will work closely with the Department of Health on those protocols. Please visit our Pause or Shutdown Plans below this section for deciding when it would be necessary to cancel some activities, move online temporarily, or close school for a period of time. We have good quarantine space available for boarding students and will be working to “cohort” students in groups to limit contact and exposure.
Reduce the density of people on campus—to limit the number of students on campus per day, boarding students and day students with special circumstances will attend classes every day while most day students will attend school in-person on campus every other day.
Traffic flow and campus signage—we are analyzing how to limit movement during the day, control traffic flow through campus, and post clear signs across campus and in buildings to help guide students to follow health and safety protocols.
Transportation—we will be limiting off-campus trips and most field trips.
Visitors—we will be strictly limiting all visitors to campus.
How early can students arrive on campus during the school day?
Our buildings will be locked until 7:45 a.m., including the Field House and Library, to eliminate students congregating in any one area. We are asking students to arrive at 7:45 a.m. and once through their health screening they will go immediately to their advisory location.
If my child feels sick during the school day where should they go?
This year the Health Office will be located in Tinker House which is located on Main Street across from Fuller Hall.
This space will allow for two separate entrances and an isolation room if needed. Signage on the doors will help to direct visitors to the appropriate entrance depending on need.
The front door, located on Main Street, will be for appointments with the counselor, medication needs, injuries, and other non-COVID symptom issues. The side door, located adjacent to the Tinker parking lot, will be for anyone with COVID symptoms, such as cough, congestion, runny nose, sore throat, and fever. This space allows us to have an isolation room for anyone who is not feeling well until they can be picked up by their family.
What should we do if my child has COVID-like symptoms?
Day students who are staying home or who are sent home because of COVID-like symptoms will need to call their primary care provider and follow their instructions regarding the need for a COVID test. The Health Office will be calling those families to walk them through the return to school policy. Boarding students will be screened every morning in their dorms and anyone who may have COVID-like symptoms will be quarantined until we receive the results of a COVID test.
Do day students have the option to do full-time remote learning?
We will open school with a hybrid schedule (in-person 2 days, remote 3 days) or a fully remote option (remote all 5 days). If you are interested in five day remote learning, please contact Dean of Academics Hank Eaton (email@example.com) or our Director of Guidance Sean Murphy (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss the options.
What is your policy for wearing masks while at school?
In order to establish and maintain a safe and healthy school community it is imperative that, along with frequent hand washing and proper social distancing, everyone wear an effective and properly fitting face mask at all times when on campus.
A well secured solid color or print pattern cloth mask that fits snugly against the face and covers an individual’s nose and mouth. It must be made of a material that prevents the discharge of respiratory droplets from a person’s nose or mouth.
KN-95, N95 masks
Medical/Procedural (3-ply disposable) masks
Commercial or Home-made 2-ply cloth masks
Face coverings with exhaust valves
Bandanas, gaiters, or buffs
Face coverings with materials such as mesh or lace fabrics
Face coverings that do not cover the nose and mouth
Face coverings that cover the entirety of the face and forehead
Face coverings with logos (St. Johnsbury Academy logo is acceptable), slogans, flags, or any other type of messaging
What is the Zoom dress code?
Students attending class via Zoom should be neat, clean, and appropriate. Ties or Academy gear are not required.
Will students be allowed to use cell phones during the school day?
Cell phones will be permitted during passing times only.
Other Important School Opening Information
Pause or Shutdown Plans
We have developed a range of plans based on different situations and circumstances that may require us to pause or shut down some or all school activities. A shutdown may be necessary based on any of the following scenarios:
- A statewide order to close due to any number of factors that are out of our control.
- The local public health department recommends a school shut down due to campus outbreak.
- Infirmary bed space, including all licensed infirmary surge space, has been utilized to its maximum capacity.
- An outbreak on campus where our COVID-19 cohort and quarantine spaces are maxed out.
- Health Center staffing does not allow for adequate coverage of the school’s Health Center facilities.
- Faculty/staff absenteeism is too high to carry out the daily operations of the school.
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