August 19, 2021
Dear Students, Parents/Guardians, Faculty, and Staff:
I hope that you and your family have been able to enjoy a restful and recuperative summer vacation. As the season begins to wind down I am writing to provide you with some important information about the upcoming school year.
As you may have heard, last Thursday the New York State Education Department released its long awaited guidance for school reopening in September. The Education Department’s recommendations are based on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatrics and call for a number of changes to safety procedures for schools.
Importance of In-Person Learning
All health and education experts acknowledge the critical importance of in-person learning for the academic, social, emotional well-being of our children. It is the consensus of these experts that students and staff can safely return to school when multiple layers of safety measures are implemented in schools. Since our school will be implementing multiple layers of safety measures, remote learning will no longer be an option for Chester students. All Chester students will be required to attend school, in-person, starting on September 1st.
Layered Mitigation Strategies
Based on the new guidance from New York State, our plans for school reopening include the following layered mitigation strategies and recommendations:
- promoting vaccination for all eligible persons;
- mandatory universal indoor mask use for all persons, regardless of vaccination status, including on school buses; (statewide mandate anticipated next week)
- physical distancing of 3 feet, or more, whenever possible;
- screening testing to quickly identify suspected cases;
- improved ventilation;
- proper handwashing and respiratory etiquette;
- staying home when sick and getting tested;
- contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine;
- routine cleaning and disinfection
Changes to Previous Protocols
We will also be making some changes to some of our previous safety rules in accordance with the new guidance from New York State. These include:
- Discontinuation of daily health screening (health questionnaire and LiveSafe app). However, parents/guardians are encouraged to continue to screen for Covid 19 symptoms prior to their child’s attending school each day. Please note that we will continue to conduct daily temperature screening.
- New definition of “close contact” as being within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24 hour period.
- Exception to the “close contact rule” excluding students who were within 3 to 6 feet of an infected student if both the infected student and the exposed student correctly and consistently wore well-fitting masks the entire time.
Community Transmission Rate
Please note that the strategies described above are not all-inclusive and are subject to change based on any new guidance that may come from the New York State Education Department and/or the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics. Also, it is important to remember that our safety measures may change based on increasing, or decreasing, levels of community transmission. As of August 13 Orange County is considered to be an area of “High Risk of Community Transmission” according to the CDC.
Sports and Extracurricular Activities
The latest New York State guidance for sports and extracurricular activities contains strong recommendations for vaccinations and testing. Most extracurricular activities will resume this school year, with safety precautions in place as appropriate. Our interscholastic sports programs are governed by Section IX of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA). Earlier this week Section IX officials met and announced that all fall sports will be offered this year. Indoor sports participants and spectators will be required to wear masks, and outdoor participants and spectators will not be required to wear masks. Notably, Section IX also strongly recommends layered mitigation strategies for additional safety.
Parents’/Guardians’ Role in School Safety
Parents play a key role in supporting a safe and healthy school environment. We need the assistance of parents/guardians in supporting our school safety rules. Here are some of the ways that parents / guardians can support a safe and healthy school environment:
- Do not send your child school if he/she is sick or has symptoms of COVID-19. Symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
If your child exhibits any of these symptoms do not send him/her to school. If your child has any of these symptoms at school, pursuant to State Education Law §906, your child must be picked up from school and brought home.
- Provide your child with a comfortable face mask and reinforce his/her use of the face mask on the bus and at school.
- If you are driving your child to/from school carefully follow the posted drop-off and pick-up times and directions. The schools do not have space to accommodate earlier drop-offs and later pick-ups. Make sure that your drop-off and pick-up is only at the designated location – this is an important safety measure that will prevent children from walking through traffic.
- Make sure that the school has up-to-date emergency contact information for parents/guardians and an emergency back-up in case your child becomes ill.
Social & Emotional Well-Being
As we prepare to welcome everyone back to school the safety and social and emotional well-being of our students and staff will continue to be our greatest priority. Over the summer we have added additional student support staff, including counselors and a new school psychologist. From the first day of school we will be implementing strategies to assess social and emotional wellness and will be providing support for those in need. Parents/guardians are strongly encouraged to closely monitor your child’s responses to their return to school and to notify school personnel immediately if you have any concerns about your child’s readjustment to school.
In the coming days you will be receiving additional information about school reopening from your building principal. As always, if you have any questions about school please do not hesitate to contact our teachers, counselors, or principals for assistance.
Best wishes for a safe, happy, and productive school year.
Denis M. Petrilak
Superintendent of Schools