Dear Senesh Families,

I hope this letter finds you well and safe, and enjoying the beginning of this unusual summer. As I wrote to you in my letter of June 11 , our school leadership, in consultation with a COVID Board Task group including medical and health professionals, has been actively planning for a variety of scenarios for this fall including in-person, hybrid, and distance learning models. While many states have released their school guidelines for the fall, New York State is not expected to do so until mid-July, at the earliest. 

I fully understand how challenging it is for parents to prepare for the fall at this time, but we are unable to finalize our school’s plan until state guidelines are released. We are acting on all the information we have available now, and will be ready to fine tune plans once the guidelines are shared. Please understand that our decisions will be guided by the goals of ensuring the health and safety of our community, offering a meaningful and engaging educational program, and staying true to our school’s mission and values. In addition to guidance from the Senesh COVID Board Task group and New York State school reopening guidelines, I am meeting weekly with Brooklyn independent school heads, NYC Jewish day school heads, and joining ongoing NYSAIS meetings to ensure that our decisions and implementation plans are aligned with these schools.

We do know from other states that distancing of students and traffic flow requirements will be mandated . This will impact the number of students doing simultaneous in-person learning in all schools - public and independent. While we are committed to doing our best to have students return to school, we are still in the midst of a pandemic, which will continue to require flexibility and cause inconveniences and hardship of varied degrees for many. My hope is that - together as a community - we will all continue to lean in, do our best, remind ourselves that this is an imperfect time, and support one another as we work to get our children back to in-person learning.
 
We have spent the last month re-purposing every inch of space in our building and calculating the size of our rooms to maximize the number of students we can have in school daily. We have also purchased new individual desks, supplies, and Chromebooks/tablets for students; PPE; and made many other required changes that we hope will allow us to open our doors in September. 
 
I have received many thoughtful questions from parents and will try my best to answer the most frequently asked questions here:

SCHOOL MODELS: Until the New York State guidelines are released, we cannot make a final plan, but it is a strong possibility that we will open school with in-person learning for the lower school and a hybrid model for some or all of the middle school (in-person learning part of the week, and distance learning part of the week.) To ensure a quality educational program with accountability of standards, safeguarding equity among our students, and utilizing our staff to the fullest, parents will not be able to choose between in-person and distance learning. However, we are installing a camera system in one classroom per grade to ensure that students who are ill can join class remotely. 

ARRIVAL/DISMISSAL TIMES AND SCHOOL HOURS: To follow distancing, flow of traffic, and health screening guidelines, parents can expect staggered arrival, dismissal, and adjusted school hours. We will utilize the four entrances and exits of our building to expedite arrival and dismissal. Our hope is that the span of staggered times will be limited to 30 minutes. However, students will only be able to enter and exit the building at the appointed time for their grade. We will also not be able to offer early bird and afterschool at this time. We understand this will be an added challenge for parents, but the health of our community and guidelines must drive these decisions.

TRANSPORTATION: We understand that parents have varied levels of concerns regarding transportation. The NYC Department of Education provides our free school bus and determines whether the bus will operate in the fall and, if so, what distancing and other precautions will be implemented. Senesh does not have any jurisdiction over the bus. It will truly be up to each family to decide their own comfort level using that mode of transportation. Senesh staff will not coordinate carpooling, but we do expect parents will work with one another to coordinate carpools, if that is something they are comfortable doing.

DISTANCING BEHAVIORS OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL: The distancing behaviors of our community - parents, students, and staff - is an understandable concern. Our recent surveys have asked questions about physical distancing to better understand where all members of our community stand as we make plans to move forward. Our community is similar to others, we have varied degrees of behaviors, which will continue to evolve as parents return to work, children socialize more, and families reunite with family and close friends. 

While we will have strategies in place to mitigate student contact and exposure, including students staying in classrooms throughout the day while teachers rotate, the children will be with other students who practice varying degrees of distancing and exposure. As we get closer to the start of the school year, we will create opportunities for parents in classes to have conversations about the norms and cultures that will work best as they navigate this time together as a class community. Please understand the school will not monitor or mandate the varying levels of physical distancing behaviors among members of our community.

MONITORING COVID CASES IN SCHOOL: We will be diligent should there be any COVID cases in our school and will be prepared to have certain segments of the school or the entire school return to distance learning overnight, if need be. We have also increased our health protocols in school including adding a new designated health room, installing sanitizing stations, and creating a health monitoring system for students upon arrival. Bathrooms have been altered to provide more physical distancing and hand dryers replaced with paper towels. Water fountains will be eliminated and students will be responsible for bringing a filled water bottle to school each morning. Improvements are being made to the school ventilation system including power washing and higher grade filters. The school will also increase cleaning and sanitizing measures during school days, on the weekends, and during school breaks.

SUPPORTING THE SOCIAL/EMOTIONAL NEEDS OF FAMILIES: We are committed to providing social and emotional support to families particularly as we all navigate this challenging time and return to school in a new way. Our school counselors and staff are receiving training to support and develop a consistent and responsive approach to helping families. Daily morning meetings will provide teachers an opportunity for informal check-ins and a safe space for sharing experiences and building community. We will continue to guide students to help them build resilience and develop the habits needed to thrive in this time.

A thoughtful orientation will take place before school for parents and students to visit Senesh, meet their teachers, learn about new schedules and protocols, and establish a connection with others in their groups. 

Orientations will be held:

Tues. Sept. 1 (grades 2, 3, 7, and 8) 
Wed. Sept. 2 (grades 1, 4, 5, and 6)

Specific times will be sent to parents in August. 

I hope this information is helpful to you. I aim to be as transparent as possible, but please understand that there continue to be many unknowns. While we are bound by state guidelines, when we can make a choice, we truly take parent feedback into consideration.
 
Again, I fully understand the challenge parents are facing as we look to starting the school year during this pandemic. We will continue to set policies and protocols to keep our community as safe and healthy as possible and will be in touch in the coming weeks as more information is available. 
 
Thank you for your patience as we move forward,
Nicole Nash
Head of School