August 13, 2021
Dear Hastings Families and Staff,
I am writing with the second district-wide update on how we plan to manage COVID-19 in the upcoming school year. The first update was sent last Friday (8.6.21) (Community Welcome & Update). As promised last week, the updates will be based on What We Know Now and What We Are Working to Resolve. Readers can look back to the preceding updates via the embedded links, but we will share the headlines of the plans already confirmed before moving into the updates.
State & County Guidance — And Regional Coordination
COVID-19 is a public health and medical concern, requiring educators to work within the expertise provided by Federal, national, state, and county public health and medical authorities. We are dependent on state and county requirements and guidance, which is tied to requirements and guidance from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The New York State Education Department (NYSED) issued its Health and Safety Guide for the 2021-22 School Year on August 12, 2021. We also are anticipating guidance and requirements from the Westchester County Department of Health.
Hastings continues to work closely with Westchester County districts and especially with the Quad Village School Districts to coordinate our plans for addressing COVID-19. We know that we will align with the anticipated state and county guidance. In turn, the District’s Leadership Team continues to work within the state, county, and regional frameworks to develop final plans. We are careful to confer with teacher and staff leaders.
Based on the NYSED guidance received Thursday, and the anticipated directives from the Westchester County Department of Public Health, we are substantially updating What We Know Now and What We Are Working to Resolve. Please understand that COVID-19 and how we manage it requires flexibility and patience with what often are necessary changes in approaches and plans. Our commitment is to promptly communicate any changes to our plans.
What We Know Now (Shared 8.6.21)
1. Hastings Will Be All-In — We will have a full return to in-person instruction for all students, grades K-12, this school year. We will be fully in-person all day, every day.
2. No Remote Option — We will not be offering a Hybrid or Remote Learning option. The sole exception will be providing a limited Remote solution for those students required to quarantine due to documented exposure to a confirmed, positive case of COVID-19.
What We Know Now (New as of 8.13.21)
1. Masks — Masks will be required for all staff and students K-12. This will be indoors only. We will build in opportunities for mask breaks for students and teachers as we did last year. Office personnel will receive separate guidance on when they may take their masks off.
2. Physical Distancing — Formerly known as social distancing, physical distancing within classrooms and other school spaces will be three feet when possible.
3. Vaccinations — We strongly encourage vaccinations for all eligible staff and students. Vaccinations are a game-changer for us being able to provide sustained, in-person schooling. We know that a very high percentage of our employees and age-eligible students are fully vaccinated. We will provide as specific a percentage as possible late next week. We are awaiting guidance from the state and county as to whether vaccinations must be mandated for employees.
4. COVID-19 Testing — Superintendents are working with the Westchester County Department of Health on a regional approach to surveillance testing, which would be district-based. The testing program is not mandated at this point, as we await additional guidance from the state.
5. Quarantine Requirements — The new guidance from the state and county will dramatically lessen the number and extent of quarantines for students and staff. Vaccinations and mask-wearing now will prevent asymptomatic individuals from having to quarantine when in “close contact” (within six feet for more than 15 minutes in a 24 hour period) with a confirmed, positive case. To be clear, exposed staff or students will not have to quarantine if at the point of exposure they:
● Were fully vaccinated and remain asymptomatic
● Wore a mask and remain asymptomatic.
6. Barriers — We will not have barriers on desks or in classrooms other than when requested by individual students or staff. The requests may only apply to the individual’s desk. We will maintain barriers in public-facing spaces, such as at the security desks and in building and central offices.
7. Daily Attestation of Health — Last year’s daily attestation of health will be replaced by an “Honor System Agreement” in which staff and families commit at the start of the school year to daily home health checks before coming to school, and to stay home if not well.
8. Busing Procedures — All riders will be required to wear a mask, and windows will remain open. Assigned seating will continue for Hillside students.
9. Ventilation and Facility Cleaning/Disinfection — We will continue to ensure air quality through the ongoing use of the upgraded ventilation systems. We will continue the additional cleaning and disinfection practices instituted last year throughout each building several times per day.
10. Safety protocols for Athletics, Music, Theatre — We will provide full co-curricular programming by following the health protocols instituted for athletics, music, and theater in Spring 2021. We will be adding back the choral program at Hillside. Details will be forthcoming from each building and the relevant co-curricular department.
What We Are Working to Resolve
1. Quarantine distance metrics for lunchrooms and mealtimes (when not masked) — We are awaiting additional information from the state and county.
2. Building and District Visitors — Our aim is to provide for building and district visitors. We are awaiting additional guidance. We are reviewing the benefits of continuing with Back-to-School Nights and Student-Teacher Conferences in a virtual format.
3. Other Items — There are a set of more specific items that we are reviewing. We will bring those forward with action plans as necessary. We also will be updating the district-wide plans and documents posted on the District’s website.
My optimism is only stronger this week that we will be able to provide each and every student a school year notable for academic growth, social-emotional well-being, and fostering joy. The more I meet with Hastings staff and administrators, the more confident I am in my hopeful outlook. This is a district of uncommonly hard-working and dedicated professionals.
William S. McKersie, Ph.D.