Catholic high schools start semester with blend of virtual, on-campus class

August 18, 2020

COVID-19 initiatives at Frassati Catholic High School in Spring include mandatory masks, physical distancing, enhanced cleaning procedures and more sanitizing stations,  a contact tracing initiative and more. (Photo courtesy of Frassati Catholic High School in Spring)

HOUSTON — Most of the 11 area Catholic high schools are starting their classes online mid-August before moving back into the classroom later in September or October as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

At St. Thomas Catholic High School for boys, all new students (freshmen and transfers) attended orientation Aug. 10 and 11 to pick up laptops and learn other skills to begin a successful year. Then, St. Thomas began its 2020 fall semester in a remote setting called “Virtual Eagle Instruction” on Aug. 17 with tentative plans to transition to an on-campus hybrid model of instruction on Sept. 14. Virtual Mass with St. Thomas President Father James Murphy, CSB, was set to still be be streamed on Facebook at 9 a.m. every Monday through Friday and Sundays.

Strake Jesuit College Preparatory, also for boys, began its remote learning Aug. 17 until it switches to in-class sessions Sept. 7 on its Bellaire campus. All in-person extracurricular activities, including practices, meetings and competitions, were suspended until further notice. Extracurricular program leaders were set to reach out to their respective communities as needed.

St. Pius X Catholic High School (SPX) also started up Aug. 17 with a distance learning model and planned to return to in-person learning possibly by Sept. 8.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented health crisis for schools in our city, state, country and world. As we plan for the 2020-2021 school year, the health and safety of our students at St. Pius X High School is our top priority,” said Jacquelynn Conger, St. Pius X director of communications.

The entire SPX staff community would be on campus to meet the needs of students and families, she said.

But in Galveston, O’Connell College Preparatory School planned to offer in-person classes starting Thursday, Aug. 20. Faculty have designed each of their courses to be offered in-person as well as synchronously via remote.

Upon arrival to campus, students must wear masks, use hand sanitizer and take responsibility for practicing social and physical distancing.

The co-ed Cristo Rey Jesuit College Preparatory School started the fall semester on Aug. 17 using a remote learning approach with plans to continue for at least nine weeks through Oct. 12, which would be at the end of the first quarter of the academic year, according to Dana Morrison, associate director of communications.

The southeast Houston school said they would reassess the situation in October, but the current plan is to transition to a hybrid learning model on Oct. 12.

“In alignment with our virtual learning, students will begin an interactive business curriculum to further prepare and connect them with their work-study jobs,” she said.
Incarnate Word Academy (IWA) for girls in downtown Houston began school on Aug. 17 with remote learning. They plan to transition to a hybrid schedule model on Sept. 21.
“This model offers students a blend of on-campus and off-campus learning, as well as activities as safely appropriate. We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation and make adjustments to our scheduled plans as necessary,” said Holly Beretto, IWA director of marketing and communications.

IWA President Sister Lauren Beck, C.V.I., said tuition will remain constant whether in-class or remote.

“Tuition primarily covers the costs of faculty and staff salaries, continuing daily operational costs, technology and other fixed costs. Though the model of how the students receive the education varies for now (on campus and remote), the cost to provide the education remains the same,” Sister Beck said.

As with other schools, she urged, “In these difficult times, some financial assistance may be available.” She encouraged those in need to contact the school.

Another school for girls, Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart off Memorial Drive, began the school year on Aug. 10 with remote learning for all students. The school planned to open campus with a phased-in schedule. This included the Lower School returning to campus Sept. 8, Middle School returning to campus on Sept. 10 and the Upper School returning to campus on Sept. 11.

When the campus does reopen, Duchesne will implement numerous modified protocols as well as contact minimization and increased physical distancing across campus.
St. Agnes Academy, also for girls, began the school year with a closed campus and remote learning from Aug. 17 through Sept. 7. Plans were to transition to back to campus on Sept. 8, should conditions allow for a safe return to campus, said Nikki Bermudes, St. Agnes communications director.

In Spring, Frassati Catholic High School began the 2020-2021 academic year on Aug. 12, with both in-person and remote education options. Students could be on-campus if they chose, and while there was no way to entirely eliminate the inherent risks of COVID-19 spread, the school has adopted a stringent set of protocols and procedures to help promote health and safety on-campus.

Some of the initiatives included mandatory masks for anyone on campus, social distancing, enhanced campus cleaning procedures, additional time between classes throughout the day, installation of hand sanitizer stations throughout campus, a robust contact tracing initiative and more.

At Frassati, the remote learning program has been enhanced and expanded from the fourth quarter of last academic year.

All remote learning will be synchronous with in-person education, and students will also have the ability to participate in community-building events with opportunities for students to participate remotely in clubs, organizations and activities.