February 18, 2022 

Dear Hastings Families and Staff, 

Mid-Winter Recess has arrived. Before departing for the week, let’s one more time champion our community and culture. I start today with FMS Creativity from two vantage points and then shift to a Winter Sports Round-Up. I close with an FAQ on COVID-19 and masks (e.g., keeping our community and culture healthy). 

FMS Creativity in the Hallway – A New School Mural 

“Just as one candle lights another and can light thousands of other candles, so one heart illuminates another heart and can illuminate thousands of other hearts.” - Leo Tolstoy 

Many hands. Many minds. Many designs. Many colors. Many patterns. Many Hearts. Hastings all. 

Months of creativity joining FMS students, teachers, staff, administrators, and Board members, under the exceptional guidance of freelance artist Joe Pimentel, culminated one week ago with a spectacular 35-foot mural. Adjacent to the Nurse's Office on FMS’ “garden level,” the mural depicts students’ artistic interpretations of Tolstoy’s inspirational quote undulating across the top of the image. Fifteen student drawings (selected from 75 submissions) were connected digitally by Pimentel and projected “like a coloring book” onto the blank wall. With brushes of brilliant colors, many hands filled in the mural over five days. 

The Rivertowns Enterprise gives lead billing to the mural in this week’s edition (February 18, 2022, p. 1). Including a photo of the mural, the article features the groups and individuals at the heart of the project. Special mention is made of the FMS Affinity Group and the Hastings Education Foundation (FMS Mural)

We look forward to FMS being open to families and the community as soon as possible to view the mural in person. 

FMS Creativity on Stage – 7th/8th Grade One Acts 

Last Friday and Saturday, 7th and 8th graders took to the stage to showcase a repertoire of one act plays. The cast and crew worked seamlessly to ensure an evening of humor and joy. While some of the one acts featured hilarious revivals of Saturday Night Live skits, others were written by Hastings students. Hearty laughter filled the auditorium in reaction to the skillful acting, sound effects, and content. A surprise was the cameo appearances of Principal Spirelli, Assistant Principal Cotrone, Jon Riss, and Fred Sandhop. Congratulations to all the performers, student crew members, Rachel Wineberg, and Gillian Husovsky for their fine work. 

Winter Sports Round-Up 

Since November, Hastings student-athletes have been training and competing beyond the hardwood of Cochran Gym. While I have featured basketball a good deal this winter, let me applaud our other Winter teams. (I am trumpeting a version of what Drew Wendol, Athletic Director, circulated in the 2.17.22 edition of the Hastings Daily.

Boys Swimming – Congrats to Michael Scholz for winning the All-League and All-Section Award. Michael had a great performance at Sectionals, finishing sixth overall in the 50-yard Freestyle and tenth in the 100-yard Freestyle. He was part of two relays that finished in the top eight in the Section. Four swimmers comprised the Sectional team, which finished fifth overall in the Section. Thank you, Coaches Cordero, Noach, and Saracino. 

Indoor Track & Field – The girls team won their league championship, with the boys placing third. Eight individual and two relay champions were crowned. At the NYS Class C Championships, the girls placed second and boys 9th – out of 19 teams. Individual standouts included Lois Heitler winning the Class C High Jump crown, Jake Ciszewski setting a school record in the Weight Throw (28’8”), Ben McNulty setting a school record in the 55m Hurdles (8.71 seconds), Emmett McGrath finishing two miles in 9:58.73 to place fifth at the Westchester County Championships, and Celia Silverstein qualifying for Nationals in the 600m. Hastings is sending the largest number of athletes in recent memory to the Section 1 State Qualifier this weekend. Kudos to Coach Guilfoyle, Coach Ortiz, and Coach Mullen for their excellent work this season. 

Ice Hockey – The Mount Pleasant IceCats (a merged program of Briarcliff, Hastings, Westlake, Pleasantville, & Valhalla) had a tremendous season, with an overall record of 15-3-1. Hastings had six athletes on the team. Coach Antash, Coach Munoz, and Coach Berger forged the five sets of athletes into a strong unit. 

Wrestling – New Varsity Head Coach O’Hare, and veteran Modified and Assistant Varsity Coach Kavy, guided one of the largest wrestling teams in Hastings history with 22 Varsity athletes and 12 Modified athletes. Due to the uptick in COVID-19 during the winter, resulting in missed tournaments and matches, we did not qualify for Sectionals. We look forward to a promising future with the revitalized Wrestling Program. 

Scholar-Athletes – Signifying Hastings's commitment to scholar-athletes, two teams qualified for the prestigious NYSPHSAA Team Scholar-Athlete Award. Indoor Track & Field and Ice Hockey were recognized for having 75% of their roster with a GPA of at least 90.00 during the Winter Season. 

COVID-19 and Masks – An FAQ 

As announced Wednesday (2.16.22 Mask Update), Hastings will shift to optional mask-use if Governor Hochul removes the NYS Mask Mandate. A decision is anticipated after we return from Mid-Winter Recess. I will send a notice to families and staff once I have formally heard the Governor’s decision. We will set a date certain for the shift to the optional use of masks in the Hastings public schools. 

Wednesday’s letter prompted five frequent questions. 

First, what is the source of the vaccination data shared in the letter? The vaccination data is drawn from the New York State Immunization Information System (NYSIIS), which receives confidential reports on individual vaccinations from most vaccination providers. Our nurses cross-check this information with students and families as necessary and we add data confidentially into student records. We are confident that the reported data is the minimum level, with actual rates likely higher. 

Second, what is the definition of fully vaccinated? Individuals who have had two doses of COVID-19 vaccine plus a booster (if age eligible) are considered “fully vaccinated.” The percentages today are nearly the same as reported on Wednesday, with an increase in fully vaccinated at HHS. As of February 18, 87% of students K-12 have received at least two doses (Hillside, 81%; FMS, 87%; HHS, 94%) and 74% are fully vaccinated (Hillside, 81%; FMS, 74%; HHS, 66%). Vaccination rates for staff are at least 95%. 

Third, can we require or promote vaccinations and boosters, especially if the mask mandate is lifted? We cannot require vaccinations and boosters without a mandate from the Governor. However, we will increase our efforts to encourage all students and staff to become fully vaccinated. The science is clear that being fully vaccinated reduces the risk of getting COVID-19 and, for those who do contract the virus, reduces the extent of the illness. In addition, being fully vaccinated enables individuals who are exposed to a confirmed positive case to not quarantine and remain in school. 

Fourth, when can we make changes to other COVID-19 mitigating strategies and procedures? Unfortunately, modifications to other mitigating strategies (i.e., physical distancing and quarantines) or to related procedures (i.e., whether visitors would be allowed during the school day and masks would be required) must wait until we know the specifics of the Governor’s decision. The WCDOH advised Westchester County Superintendents on February 15 that, while we must wait for the Governor’s decision about changes to procedures, some policies are independent of the mask mandate and will not change. For instance, individuals who are COVID-19 positive must wear a mask for five days when they return to school after their five days of isolation. This “mixed bag” of guidance forces us to have a “grace period” of several days between the Governor’s announcement and a change in mask procedures in Hastings so that we make the shift as smooth as possible for students and staff. 

Fifth, will we be increasing ventilation indoors and opportunities to be outdoors if the mask mandate is lifted? We continue to have good ventilation systems throughout the schools and, with warmer weather, we will strongly encourage classroom windows to be open whenever possible. We will continue the outdoor eating options, as the weather allows, for all three schools. 

Masks or not, we should recommit to monitoring our own health and staying home to rest and recover if not feeling well. In that spirit, we suggest families avail themselves of the COVID-19 rapid test kits sent home with each student this week beginning on Tuesday. Federal and State agencies are providing large amounts of COVID-19 tests to school districts. Hastings has been using these tests for the Test-to-Stay Program. Distributing rapid tests to students and staff is another tool to help mitigate spread. Please consider testing your children before returning from Mid-Winter Recess. 

Here’s to a relaxing and enjoyable vacation. You’ve earned it! 

Be well. 

William S. McKersie, Ph.D. 

Superintendent of Schools