Superintendent’s Community Update for December 4, 2020

December 4, 2020

Dear Hastings Families,

It was good to see the students, faculty, and staff back after the Thanksgiving holiday. We appreciate your cooperation in avoiding travel and limiting interactions outside of your home. This wasn’t desirable but it is why we were able to resume hybrid in-person learning at Farragut Middle School and Hastings High School, as well as reopen yesterday in the hybrid learning model at Hillside Elementary School. The weeks ahead will require our collective focus on following the safety practices of completing the COVID questionnaire and remaining home if symptoms are present, wearing masks, remaining 6 feet from others, and washing hands frequently. With a few weeks away from the Holiday Recess on December 24, 2020-January 1, 2021, please keep in mind families may switch to remote instruction until January 7, 2021, by contacting your child’s Assistant Principal. This information was shared in a community update, which is here.  As of today, 43% of the total student population at Hastings High School is learning remotely, 20% at Farragut Middle School, and 12% at Hillside Elementary School. 

The impact of quarantining on faculty, staff, and families
As we approach the Holiday Recess, we must do so carefully so that after these holidays, children, faculty, and staff can safely return to in-person learning. Faculty and staff are weary and worried about the weeks leading up to the Holiday Recess because of the prospect they may end up in quarantine during the holidays. Their concerns are not unwarranted given the numbers of students, faculty, and staff who have had to quarantine and in some cases, do so multiple times. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released new quarantine options, the New York State Department of Health has not issued a decision on whether or not they will stay with the 14 day period of quarantine or adopt the CDC reduced option. We will share this information as soon as we receive an update. For now, there is no change in the 14 day quarantine period. 

Return to work/school protocol change
Many more people are getting tested, which is good news. However, this has caused long lines, a delay in test results, and further stress on the medical profession. Our return to work protocol described on pages 20-23 of the Hastings School Reopening Plan currently requires medical clearance after the individual returns to school. An attestation form is being developed to replace the medical clearance requirement out of the recognition that visiting a medical facility may not be a good idea and medical professionals are not always able to provide a medical clearance. As soon as this form is finalized, the attestation form will be added to our plan, shared with our Nurses, and placed on our website. 

Reporting unsafe situations in the community 
Please continue to review these CDC holiday reminders to keep your family safe. In my November 13, 2020 community update, I informed families that the health department provided a contact for reporting unsafe behavior in the community, which imperils the safety of others by contributing to the spread of the virus. Please contact the Westchester Department of Health at 914-995-2900 or to report these incidents. 

Chartwells cafeteria employee tests positive
An outside vendor, Chartwells, runs our cafeteria program. Today, we were notified that an individual employed by Chartwells tested positive for COVID-19. This individual worked on November 30 but had no symptoms. The Westchester County Department of Health was informed and contact tracing revealed that five employees from Chartwells were in contact with this individual and are now under quarantine. No Hastings High School or Farragut Middle School students, faculty, or staff members were in contact with this individual. The entire cafeteria has been disinfected and sanitized. We hope this individual has a swift recovery. The three District staff members at the Farragut Complex who were quarantined on Wednesday are also recovering.   

Changes to the Governor’s Cluster Initiative 
The Governor adjusted his microcluster initiative this week, which is reflected in today’s New York State Department of Health memo. Schools in the orange and red microcluster zones may now remain open during testing. However, if schools do not comply with the testing requirements, they will be closed by the Department of Health. The District’s testing plan was shared with the community on November 25, 2020, followed by a COVID testing consent form reminder shared yesterday. By proactively completing and returning the consent form to your child’s Nurse, we will be able to start scheduling appointments for testing as soon as we are notified. Based upon today’s yellow zone map, Hastings has not been designated.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact Ms. Gina Kowalski, R.N. at Hillside Elementary School, and Ms. Joanne Cipollina, R.N. at Farragut Middle School and Hastings High School. 

Book Study on 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
About twelve members of the community joined Melissa Szymanski and me to discuss the first two parts of Harari’s book. We grappled with how artificial intelligence and robotics have both brought about advancements, improvements (some life saving), and access to information and “stuff” that we have come to enjoy and expect. However, the trade-off is that many routine activities that humans still do in the workplace can be automated and performed by bots or machines. What jobs or professions will be most impacted by this technological disruption? Furthermore, humans may not always be at the top of the intelligence chain in the age of artificial intelligence. This is both intriguing and terrifying. Educators and parents must then ask, how should schools prepare children to succeed in a world where most of the jobs they will have don’t currently exist? Please join us to continue this discussion on January 6, 2021, from 5:00 pm-6:00 pm. The Zoom link to join the book study is here

Superintendent’s Chat on December 2, 2020
There was some discussion at this week’s Superintendent’s Chat about last year’s science reductions at the high school. A few electives and a course were not offered because we needed to find reductions to close a budget gap in our 2020-21 school budget. As a result of the retirement of a science educator at Farragut Middle School, a teacher from Hastings High School was moved to cover this vacancy. If we receive additional revenue, we will apply these resources to the restoration of STEM courses and electives at the high school and new offerings at the middle school. We look forward to the opportunity to adopt Project Lead the Way STEM courses at both schools.  

Every week gets us closer to a future where COVID’s grip will be loosened. In the meantime, we have to remain vigilant and faithful to the safety practices that have been proven to prevent the spread of the virus. We appreciate the efforts of our faculty, staff, and administrators who are working hard to support our students while feeling fatigued by this virus. We also appreciate our families and students who are experiencing various hardships, disruptions, and fatigue. Again, I express my sincerest gratitude to everyone for the collective efforts and cooperation necessary to keep moving forward. 

I hope you have a safe, pleasant, and enjoyable weekend.

Warm regards,

Valerie Henning-Piedmonte, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools