Superintendent Pero: Regarding Reopening (4/12/21)
April 12, 2021
Dear PCSD Families and Staff,
Since my email late Friday, as anticipated, the New York State Department of Public Health (NYSDOH) released new guidance relative to re-opening schools. You can review this guidance (law) in its entirety here:
The most significant changes are the differences in guidance between elementary and secondary schools as it relates to social distancing and “cohorting” of students; both of which are tied to a seven day rolling average of county-wide infection rates. This rate is critical as it dictates the extent to which secondary students can be cohorted and socially distanced at three feet apart versus six feet. Elementary students will remain at a required minimum of three feet of social distance because of the lower rate of infection among this age group, as per the Centers for Disease Control and the NYSDOH.
Monroe County continues to experience a rise in COVID-19 cases and is currently designated as a having a high risk of transmission. The new guidance also delineates transmission risk of COVID-19 by age ranges citing, "there is lower susceptibility and incidence among elementary children than teenagers."
What are the bottom-line implications of this new guidance for PCSD students?
- Elementary Level - We are fortunate to have been able to start the year with our elementary schools open. Elementary schools will remain open in our current model through the end of this year. There may be building-level decisions that allow some changes for students to interact with other students outside of their current pod. Any changes will be communicated in advance.
- Secondary Level - Students will remain in their hybrid instruction model until the rolling average allows for a full return. Should infection rates drop to the extent we can re-open without cohorting, we will re-open. However, we will need to assess how late into this school year this will be considered a viable option. We will make announcements every Wednesday regarding the extent we can open the following week.
- Fully Remote – Elementary and secondary students learning in the fully remote model will continue in this program through the end of the school year.
What are the details of the new K-6 (elementary) Guidance?
- The NYSDOH guidance allows for elementary students to come to school in counties with a high risk of transmission when people can maintain a physical distance of at least three feet in classrooms and cohorting is possible.
- PCSD elementary schools have been open since September, so you will not see any significant changes for our district.
- You may see more elementary schools open in our county given this new guidance.
What are the details of the grades 7-12 (secondary) Guidance?
- Transmission Rates - The NYSDOH guidance cites that when counties are in high-risk transmission zones, like Monroe County is currently, secondary students can only come to school if districts are able to cohort students.
- Cohorting Students - Guidance defines cohorting as “self-contained, pre-assigned groups.” In other words, the same students would need to be together in classrooms throughout the day to prevent “intermingling” between cohorts. Guidance specifically states, “when schools cannot maintain cohorting, middle and high schools must maintain physical distancing of at least six feet between students and classrooms.” Given the nature of secondary schools, which involves individualized schedules, and a breadth of programming, cohorting is not possible. Furthermore, the currently high transmission rate in Monroe County (as defined by CDC) also requires secondary PCSD students to remain in a hybrid instruction model until the rolling average allows for a full return.
- Barriers - The CDC no longer recommends physical barriers for mitigation where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Infection rates will be monitored and included in the District’s weekly COVID-19 case update that is currently emailed to parents and staff. The community infection rate will determine the viability of opening up our secondary schools without cohorting.
The first day that we will be able to consider reopening will be when we exit the Red Zone. For your planning purposes, we will set a reopening date with a minimum of seven days advance notice. For the purposes of staff and space preparation, one or two conference days will be required prior to opening. Our COVID-19 protocols remain effective so the masking policy, daily health screenings of students and staff, cleaning, and contact tracing will continue as established.
I will be sending the PCSD reopening plan to NYSDOH tomorrow for review and approval. PCSD’s proposed plan will be posted on the district website tomorrow.
From the beginning, our true north has been set to bringing students back safely – we may be close to doing this. Talking about re-opening means we are gaining more control over this pandemic as we obtain a better understanding of the contributing factors and best ways to mitigate it. This is an exciting moment.
More updates will be coming as information becomes available to me. Thank you for your ongoing support of our schools and staff.
Superintendent of Schools