Illness sweeps through Upper School, sophomores hardest hit

A weekend of formals for many sophomores and juniors ended in an outbreak of illness some have dubbed the “Episco-plague.”

By Wednesday, Feb. 1, what began as a few absences had spread, mostly through the sophomore class.  

Thirteen students left school early that day, bringing total absences to 69 students. The breakdown for Feb. 1 by grade is as follows:


9th – 1 early departure, 1 full-day absence

10th – 9 early departures, 41 absences

11th – 1 early departure, 11 absences

12th – 2 early departures, 3 absences


Reports from the Parents’ Desk indicate that Thursday’s numbers are “much worse,” with a total of 82 absences:


9th – 1 early departure, 8 full-day absences

10th – 11 early departures, 48 absences

11th – 0 early departures, 10 absences

12th – 2 early departures, 2 absences


On both days, the junior class was the next hardest hit after the sophomore class. The week before Cotillion, Upper School absences reached between 10-12 per day.

Theories spread like viruses in the days following the dance. St. John’s students speculated that the illness was primarily transferred at Cotillion by attendees from Episcopal, hence the nickname for the outbreak.

Episcopal reported even more alarming absence rates this week: over 150 were out sick on Thursday, according to multiple students. The Kinkaid health center reported that there were no unusual absence rates. The John Cooper School, whose students did not attend Cotillion, said that their upper school will be closed Friday, Feb. 3 because of the wave of students out sick.

The unusually large number of illnesses could impact a full weekend of activities.      

Important rivalry games are scheduled on campus on Friday against Kinkaid in both basketball and soccer. The Freshmen Valentine’s Dance is Saturday night, and the Super Bowl is Sunday evening at NRG Stadium.

Upper School Nurse Tesa Stark’s message to the community gave reassurance about the support for sick students, urging them not to force themselves to school.

In an email to Upper School families, she reminded parents to “please keep your child home if he/she is sick. We ask that you do not send him/her back to school until he/she is fever-free without any fever-reducing medications and/or have not vomited for 24 hours.”

Students’ persistence to attend school likely helped transmit the illness quicker.

“Everybody’s concerned about their academics, and they push themselves even when they’re sick, which is actually the worst thing they could do,” Stark said. “You should stay home or you’ll hang onto the sickness longer and infect others. It’s about taking care of yourself and the community.”

Despite assurances that they should stay home, missing school brings immense pressure. Some students who have fallen ill still chose to attend school out of fear of missing work.

“I could feel myself becoming more sick on Tuesday morning, and my condition worsened really fast,” said sophomore Alex Ham. “But I stayed at school on Tuesday because I had a test that day.”

Sophomore Juliana Aviles started feeling sick on Monday after Cotillion. She woke up Tuesday with a fever but still came to school. She ended up leaving early.

“It’s very stressful,” Aviles said. “ I’ve been trying to do makeup work, but not really succeeding. I’m going to have to do most of it this weekend.”

Sophomore Lily Schueppert started feeling sick on Tuesday and has missed three days so far. As she sits in bed watching “The Office,” she worries about work piling up.

“If I had to miss more school, I’d probably panic,” Schuppert said. “ Missing one day of school is not good.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the flu became widespread in Texas the week ending Jan. 14 and throughout the majority of the country the week ending Jan. 21. 

“Because the flu’s widespread, what’s happening right now is not surprising,” Stark said. “On the night of Cotillion, sophomores got together with two other schools, danced in close quarters and got less sleep, putting them at higher risk. That’s why their class was hit so hard first.”

Most students who visited Stark are suffering from flu-like symptoms, upper respiratory viruses, stomach viruses and strep throat. Stark says that most illnesses in children are viral and that students cannot solely depend on medicine to recover.

“Our society lives in a mindset of the quick fix. We want the medication that will make things better instantly,” Stark said. “With a virus, it’s just rest, hydration and time. It’s hard for us to remember that we need to take that time.”