Headmaster’s Newsletter

Update to Academy Families — October 30, 2020

Bell tower an flag
October 30, 2020

Dear St. Johnsbury Academy Families,


It has been a couple of weeks since the last update, and as the holiday season fast approaches—along with an uptick of COVID-19 cases in our region—I want to update you on some of our planning for the next few months, and emphasize some important new requirements from the State of Vermont that will affect our decision-making.


I am proud of the effort that SJA has made to mitigate the risk of COVID on campus. Thank you to all families who are keeping sick students home and helping them to make the right choices about safe and appropriate behavior. But especially given the current map, which shows yellow and red zones encroaching, we shouldn’t let down our guard. Remember the Community Commitment we made at the beginning of this year—we committed to “do what is necessary to keep one another as safe and healthy as we can.” Let’s recommit to doing that.


While we recognize that it might not be possible, we aim to continue our hybrid school days until Winter Break, and we will need your help to make it happen. Many colleges and universities—and other high schools—are currently moving online or have already done so, and we are preparing for that possibility while hoping we can stay the course.


1.  Holiday and Inessential Travel

Our expectations about limiting unnecessary travel have not changed—we will still adhere strictly to the State of Vermont’s guidelines about cross-state travel and accompanying rules about quarantines and testing. We continue to expect everyone to avoid unnecessary travel to any places requiring quarantine upon return.


  • We strongly urge you to consider these guidelines when making your holiday plans. If you go away for Thanksgiving, your student cannot return to school in-person until after he/she has quarantined.


  • This also goes for weekend trips and day trips. We know it will be challenging to make decisions about whether to visit family members—and that we are all tired of having to stay apart.


  • We know that many of you will have family visiting from out of state, or siblings coming home from college, etc. Here is the official language about this from the Vermont Department of Health:


If you are hosting travelers under quarantine in your home or lodging, you do not also need to quarantine. That means you can go to school, work, or the grocery store. However, you need to stay at least 6 feet from the people who are under quarantine. People under quarantine should wear a mask in common spaces, use a separate bathroom, eat separately, and otherwise not be in close contact with the people who are hosting them. Be sure to disinfect commonly touched surfaces, and check yourself for symptoms for 14 days.


  • Please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask our COVID coordinator about travel scenarios if you’re unsure (jdriscoll@stjacademy.org).


2.   Going Remote/Response to Cases

We are eager to continue being here on campus together. But there is a chance that we will need to move all of our instruction online. Please remember that we outlined the criteria we will consider when deciding whether to move online in our Roadmap (see “Pause or Shutdown Plans” in the Q and A). We will be consulting with the Department of Health and other state agencies to determine what move is most appropriate for us.


The Vermont Agency of Education may tell us at any time that we must move to what they call “Step I,” which is fully remote learning. In this case, and always, we will stay in close communication with you, as well as with our neighboring districts and schools, to stay informed about local cases and responses and use our best judgement about how to proceed.


3.   December Final Exams

First Semester final exams will run during regular class days (classes will continue to run) in the December 7th-December 18th timeframe.

  • a.    All final exams will be designed to be taken online.

  • b.   The calendar for the final exams is as follows:

                                         i.        Wednesday, December 7 = Health

                                       ii.        Thursday, December 10 = English/Humanities

                                     iii.        Monday, December 14 = Social Studies

                                      iv.        Tuesday, December 15 = Math

                                       v.        Wednesday, December 16 = Languages

                                      vi.        Thursday, December 17 = Science

                                    vii.        Friday, December 18 = Make-ups


4.   Planning for Next Semester

We have begun planning for Spring 2021, and as of now, we’re assuming that much of the hybrid structure and cohort schedule we have created will remain the same. We may be doing some different kinds of teaching within that structure, though; our faculty leaders are thinking together about the effects of screen time, and imagining ways we might ensure student engagement without so much of it.


5.   Second Semester Start Date

We’ll begin 2nd semester classes on January 12th (as originally planned), and we will have more information about the rest of the spring schedule before too long. 


6.   Please Use the Portal!

Most everything you need to stay informed and involved is on our Parent Portal. You can access your student’s grade reports, comments, and attendance record; look at the school calendar, school announcements, and faculty and staff directory. You will also soon be able to access your student’s Canvas pages for each course and school billing statements. In the future all grade information will come through the portal, so do start using it now. Any questions about your credentials or how to access the portal, please contact the Academic Office: (academics@stjacademy.org).


Finally, we are aware of the potential for tension and emotion around the upcoming election on Tuesday, and we will be holding chapel each day next week in order to start our days together and remind each other that we’re one community. I have faith that our students and faculty will be able to navigate this moment as they do others—with mutual respect, good humor, and the lively spirit of inquiry.


We will revive the practice of sending an update to you each Friday so that as the holidays and next semester approach, we can be sure you are getting the latest information and that we are answering your most pressing questions. In the coming weeks there will be more information about winter athletics, clubs and activities, and updates from the COVID response team. As always, please feel free to be in touch through the Roadmap or with me directly at showell@stjacademy.org.


Thank you for your partnership, for sharing your wonderful kids with us, and for helping us get stronger as we go through this time together.




Dr. Sharon L. Howell


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