Guidelines for Episcopal Schools Summer Programs
June 1, 2020
Dear Heads of School and Priests with Schools,
Let’s begin with thanks. Thank you all for the hard work you have done, and continue to do, to address the COVID-19 pandemic. While everyone has faced disruption and uncertainties, our communities’ schools have faced some particularly daunting challenges. Your leadership; your commitment to your school’s mission; and your care for students, families, faculty, and staff in these difficult times have been essential to weathering this storm. You are an inspiration and a sign of hope.
The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas’ Guidelines For Phased Reopening of Churches for public worship and the church offices, issued May 1st, did not address the reopening of Episcopal schools within the Diocese. At that time, schools throughout the country were closed for the remainder of the school year, with no known date for reopening.
A few weeks later on May 18th, Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued Executive Order No. GA-23, which states, “Beginning June 1, 2020, public school districts may offer, and public education students may accordingly visit school campuses for, in-person classroom instructional activities and learning options, such as summer school programs, … under the minimum standard health protocols found in guidance issued by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Private schools and institutions of higher education may reopen campuses and are encouraged to establish similar standards to allow students, teachers, and staff to return to schools for the limited purposes set forth above.”
In response to this change, and in consultation with Deputy for Episcopal Schools Mary Katherine Duffy, the diocesan Chancellor, and other diocesan staff, I am now issuing Guidelines for Episcopal School Summer Programs, for schools within the Diocese which wish to offer a summer program. The Guidelines are attached; before you read them, please keep in mind the following assumptions and rationale.
First, these Guidelines assume that all normal and pandemic-related requirements, guidelines, and policies set by the state, by licensing agencies, and by your accrediting bodies are being followed.
Second, if your school is planning a summer program, you will develop and display sanitization and other safety protocols to protect staff and students. To have this plan in writing is important to the Diocese and will be even more important to your parents, faculty, and staff prior to their return to the school.
Third, the Diocese does not categorize our Episcopal schools as “outside groups” in relation to their churches. The Phase Two Guidelines to reopen church and church offices do not allow outside groups to resume meeting on site and do not permit in-person church meetings or gatherings of any kind. The Diocese recognizes our Episcopal schools as a ministry of the churches and a vital part of the life of a congregation. However, because of the nature of our schools’ mission, the Diocese will regard their Summer Programs separately from other church meetings and formation activities at this time.
Fourth, these school Guidelines assume intentional and sustained cooperation between the Heads of School, Rectors or Vicars with schools, and other church and school leaders regarding the implementation of a school's summer programming. This collaboration is a wonderful practice all the time, but is essential now, especially if churches and schools share facilities.
Fifth, these Guidelines are intentionally not elaborate or lengthy. We understand and appreciate that licensing and accrediting agencies have standards and requirements that you must follow that may be stricter than the diocesan Guidelines.
In simplest terms, these school Guidelines require that School Heads and Rectors work together to draft and implement customized plans for summer programs that honor the intent of the Guidelines for Phased Church Reopening while making practical, reasonable, and safe accommodations for the local needs of our schools. Your plan does not need to be exhaustive, but it should address key aspects of summer programming and be easily understood by all who will need to know the protocols.
The plan should be approved by the Head of School, your Board of Trustees, the Rector or Vicar, and the church’s Senior or Bishop’s Warden, then submitted for review and approval to the Diocese before the opening date of your program. Please submit your school’s plan to Mary Katherine at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like more information about what your local plan might incorporate, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Mary Katherine. As always, she stands ready to support you in your work. Several of you have already shared some excellent plans with her, and we will make every plan available to all of you. There is no need to try to figure this out alone.
As we have urged our clergy, so I would urge our Heads of School: pay attention to your local situation regarding COVID-19. Keep up with developments and seek the guidance of local medical and public health officials. The mantra across the Diocese these days is, “Everything is subject to change.” As churches and schools within the Diocese begin to reopen, we do so fully aware that the pandemic has not gone away, and with the understanding that should the situation worsen, we may need to restrict public gathering once more.
In conclusion, a word to rectors with schools. Given that our churches are in Phase Two – a Modified Return to Public Worship, which does not permit other church activities (whether on- or off-site), you may well get questions about the reopening of church schools - “Why can the students come for class, but parishioners can’t gather for Sunday school?” Knowing that no answer will satisfy everyone, I offer a few thoughts in response to these inevitable questions.
The diocesan Phase Two Guidelines are focused solely on the next right step: reopening our churches for in-person worship. Once congregations have adapted to this new reality and experienced the amount of time and work needed to stick to our protocols, then we may begin to consider resuming in-person Bible studies, fellowship, and other meetings, taking into consideration the local progress of the pandemic at that time.
Keep in mind that our schools are routinely held to higher standards of safety, cleanliness, and hygiene than our churches, and must maintain a healthier environment to satisfy licensing and accrediting agencies. They are better equipped and more accustomed to cleaning and sanitizing spaces on a daily basis than churches.
Most compellingly, our schools depend on revenue from student enrollment. All of our schools have been closed since March. If they do not reopen for summer programs or are unable to announce plans to reopen for the 2020-2021 academic year, many of their students may not return.
You know the importance of the work you do, and the countless ways you are called to lead and serve your school communities. The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas is better and stronger because of the ministry of our schools. Thank you again for your love and devotion to your students, their families, and your staff. If I can be of assistance to you, please don’t hesitate to call on me.
May the Lord bless, guide and encourage you. May he keep you safe, and make you strong.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
David M. Reed
Bishop of West Texas