Coronavirus and social distancing sweep Manatee County; SSES to close through April 3

How will the two-week closing of Saint Stephen's affect students and staff? Here's everything you need to know about the SSES shutdown if you're a student, teacher, or family member. This is a developing story. Check back in to The Gauntlet for daily updates and new information.


Blake Hoonhout

Upper School English teachers conduct a virtual meeting with other faculty members using the videoconference app Zoom.

This past week, in an unusually well-coordinated collaboration of private industry and government institutions, the nation as a whole quickly decided that COVID-19 was to be taken seriously. 

The NBA, MLS, NHL, and XFL have all suspended their seasons. MLB’s spring training has been canceled. March Madness has been called off, as well as the PGA Championship. New York’s Carnegie Hall has canceled all performances through the end of the month, Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show will suspend production and campaign events have been canceled by both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden.

Over 30 million students across the country will not report to school today due to closings, including those at Saint Stephen’s. At 6:51 AM Saturday morning, Head of School Dr. Jan Pullen announced that school would be closed for the next three weeks, including our already-planned spring break from March 30th to April 3rd. This cancellation came after the Florida Department of Education closed all public schools for a two-week period on Friday afternoon, advising private/independent schools to follow suit.

What does this mean for Saint Stephen’s students? Over the past few weeks, numerous teachers have touched on the possibility of distance learning during school closings, but no solid plans had been laid out. What will students’ responsibilities be for the next two weeks?

Upper School Director Mr. Andrew Forrester, as well as English teacher Mr. Blake Hoonhout, were able to provide some insight into what the next few weeks will look like.

Today and tomorrow (March 16-17), students will be considered off from school.  Any assignments that are on-going (or which were due Monday or Tuesday), presumably need to be attended to by students unless otherwise noted by instructors. During this period, teachers will report to school and attend meetings to lay out plans for the upcoming weeks.  If a student needs to pick up supplies from their cubbies or teachers, they are permitted to arrange to pick up those items from the front desk tomorrow, Tuesday, between noon and 5 pm. 

According to Mr. Forrester, March 18-20 will be dedicated to, “…ensuring students are ready for their off-site learning experience.”  Students should check into both their school emails and SSESonline in the coming days, particularly on Wednesday, to see if instructors have posted any plans or assignments.

Some teachers will introduce distance learning programs such as Zoom (an online meeting/conference call program), Google Drive assignments, SSESonline discussion boards, and Showbie, among others, starting this Wednesday. 

Teachers have also been permitted to assign continuous work to keep on track with lesson planning set up before the shutdown. Examples of “continuous work” are items such as reading assignments, on-going essays, or instructional videos to watch.

Beginning Monday of next week, school will fully resume in a “virtual setting.” From March 23-27, students will follow their normal block scheduling, dedicating their normal class time at home to “attend” each class period. Teachers will decide what to do with this time, but they have been recommended to connect with students in a live setting, whether through a full-class Zoom meeting or individual videos or individual assignments on SSESonline.

Blake Hoonhout
Teachers will have their choice of mediums for distance learning. Mr. Hoonhout has chosen to upload video lessons to SSESOnline.

According to Mr. Hoonhout, students will be “on-call” starting next Monday. They will be expected to dedicate the same hours of their day to school as they normally would and should be ready to begin their schoolwork for the day at the normal 8 am start time.

The week of March 30, the regularly-scheduled spring break will be in effect. Students will have no daily responsibilities during this week and are free to relax as normal. However, they are advised to take necessary caution and practice good hygiene to avoid being affected by the virus. 

Students registered to take the ACT on April 4th are advised that their tests will be rescheduled to this summer. Those planning on taking the SAT on May 2nd will need to make other arrangements, as this test date has been canceled. More information on standardized testing can be found here.

As of today, school is scheduled to resume on-campus on Monday, April 6. The administration will likely contact parents with updates on the status of campus reopening in the upcoming weeks, and students can look to The Gauntlet for timely updates as new developments occur.

“I would like to commend our faculty for their efforts and willingness to adjust to these changes,” says Mr. Forrester. “They have done a great job of ensuring that not a step is missed in delivering our content and completing our skill development.”