At its Feb. 16 meeting, the Board of Education made a motion to table the adoption of the Revised Tiered Mitigation Plan to allow for a final board discussion after hearing from more than 35 people during Privilege of the Floor. After additional discussion at an emergency meeting on Feb. 17, the board unanimously (7-0) adopted the Revised Tiered Mitigation Plan.
The new plan reduces the number of mitigation levels from four to three. Currently, in all school districts across New York, masks are still required. BH-BL will continue to follow the state’s mask mandate, placing us in Level 3 of the revised plan. However, Governor Hochul has announced plans to reassess the mask requirement in schools in early March and the new plan directs the school administration to move to Level 2 when these mandates are lifted.
Mandatory universal masking, weekly employee testing, and other mandated personal protections are the only protocol lifted when moving from Level 3 to Level 2. Other mitigations such as social distancing, increased ventilation and air exchange and enhanced sanitizing procedures will remain in effect.
It’s important to note that students and drivers must still wear face coverings/masks while on school buses regardless of the mitigation level BH-BL implements. This is because wearing masks on public transportation is a federal requirement. Therefore, until there is more information from the federal level, BH-BL will continue to follow this mandate.
The board’s plan identifies metrics that will be necessary to move the district from Level 2 to Level 1 at some point in the future. The most noticeable difference for students in Level 1 will be a relaxing of the social distancing guidelines, especially as they relate to lunches and indoor gatherings for assemblies and special events. Regardless of the mitigation level, the district will publicize and promote recommendations for best practice provided by the CDC and the NYS Department of Health.
During the board’s discussion, several members raised concerns about the possible challenges associated with students transitioning back to schools without face masks and for those who prefer to continue wearing masks, and asked what type of support will be provided.
Superintendent McGrath explained that work has already begun preparing students and staff for what “masks optional” would look like in the buildings. (See the Frequently Asked Questions section below for more details.)
“Once the mandate is lifted,” McGrath said, “we need to communicate to our students that health officials have made the assessment that it is now okay to make masks optional. As cases of COVID-19 continue to decrease, students should talk to their parents about the right choice for them when the mandate is lifted.”
At the high school level, McGrath explained that Principal Brunson has already met with students at each grade level to talk about respecting and supporting people’s individual choices. Additionally, social workers and counselors will be readily available for students who are anxious or nervous about the change. This same type of communication is being planned at the middle and elementary schools.
“Our goal and hope is that our students continue to be kind, respectful, and courteous of one another regardless of the decisions each of us make about being masked or unmasked,” said McGrath. “We have incredible, caring students and families in our community who all want what’s best for their children. We’ve made it this far and gotten through so much during this pandemic, I’m certain we’ll weather this next phase with mutual respect.”
Frequently Asked Questions
How soon will BH-BL move from the mandates (Level 3) to mask optional (Level 2)?
When Governor Hochul rescinds the mask mandate, BH-BL will shift immediately from Level 3 to Level 2, allowing students and staff the option of wearing a mask at any time during the school day. This is likely to occur some time in the next several weeks so parents should begin discussing this change now, especially if they think it will be something that may cause anxiety for their child.
When will BH-BL move from Level 2 to Level 1 in the Revised Mitigation Plan?
Moving from Level 2 to Level 1 is determined by local metrics explained in the mitigation plan. In order to support a move to Level 1, the district would need to see a continuous decrease in the number of actual cases among students and staff for four consecutive weeks after making masks optional. When these conditions are met, the district will shift into Level 1. The most noticeable difference for students in Level 1 will be a relaxing of the social distancing guidelines, especially as they relate to lunches and indoor gatherings for assemblies and special events.
If the number of COVID cases in our school buildings steadily increase, will the Board return to requiring masks for all in school buildings? What is the threshold for moving back to Level 3?
If for any reason in the future, the state implements new personal health mandates, the district will make the necessary adjustments to its Tiered Mitigation Plan, move back to Level 3, and communicate this to parents immediately. A move back to Level 3 would come through a new law or direct mandate from the Department of Health at the state or county level.
Where can I get COVID rapid test kits? How should I use them?
The district was given COVID rapid test kits, and they are available at every school building and the district office. Prior to winter break, the district distributed test kits to many parents. For those parents who did not receive them due to the emergency closing on Feb.18, they will be available for pick up during business hours at all school offices and the district office Monday through Friday over winter break.
These tests are NOT mandatory but we are strongly encouraging students and staff to test once over break on Sunday, Feb. 27, and again after school has resumed on Wednesday, March 2. These two dates have been suggested to the district by Governor Hochul as she indicated she will be reviewing the statewide number of COVID cases in schools the week we return from mid-winter break in order to reassess masks and other mitigation protocols. You do not have to report results unless your student tests positive. Please report a positive result to your school nurse and the county you reside in through their websites.
Important: Any student or staff member who has tested positive for COVID since December 1, 2021 should NOT take a test to prevent potential false positive results.
We do ask that you continue to follow sick child protocols and keep your children home if they do not feel well, have a fever or sore throat, or have been vomiting. If your child tests positive for COVID-19, contact the school nurse who will inform parents of the current guidance for isolation and return to school protocols.
When in Levels 2 or 1, if my child/family decides to not wear a mask in school, do we need to inform anyone?
Once the state mask mandate ends in schools, students are no longer required to wear a mask. This means you do not need to notify the school, and students will not be asked to wear a mask by any staff member unless they are on a school bus.
Will masks be provided to students and staff that request them?
Yes. Throughout the pandemic the district has provided masks to staff members and students that have needed or requested them. Currently the district has purchased a number of KN-95 masks for students and staff that request them. These masks are designed to be used more than once and will be available while supplies last.
Will there be certain situations in Levels 1 or 2 where students may be required to wear masks?
No. In Levels 1 and 2 masks are optional. In Level 2, social distancing will be maintained to the greatest extent possible. Continued social distancing may require us to limit or modify certain activities such as lunch, special events, and assemblies.
Will full class mask breaks still be mandatory in Levels 1 or 2?
No. When masks become optional in Levels 1 or 2 full class mask breaks will no longer be required. That said, students who choose to wear masks will be afforded opportunities for mask breaks upon request. Like any request to leave the classroom, this will be granted by the supervising adult and follow building protocols.
If intimidation or harassment regarding wearing masks occurs, how will the school handle it?
BH-BL is proud of the culture that exists across the district. As with any other circumstance, intimidation, bullying, or harassment among students with respect to mask choices will not be tolerated. We have an extremely caring staff and student body and we continue to work hard to model respect for all. Any negative treatment of others will be addressed according to the protocols outlined in our Student Code of Conduct. Students and parents are always encouraged to report any concerning behavior or events to a Principal or other trusted adult within the school system.
What can a student or parent do if they feel uncomfortable participating in school or classroom activities/events in a mask optional environment?
The tiered mitigation protocol was reviewed and supported by local health officials who have been involved in all mitigation efforts up to this point. As a result, the protocols included in Levels 2 and 1 are considered measures that will keep students safe under the conditions described at each level. If parents or students have individual concerns they should contact their child’s teacher or principal, but students are expected to fully participate with each other in all required activities whether or not they choose to wear a mask.
Will parents be able to request that their child wear/not wear a mask while at school?
Parents should discuss their expectations with their children and decide what works best for them in regard to mask wearing. Parents may inform the school of their preference as the school supports a parents/students choice regarding masking, but will not be in a position to enforce mask wearing while at school. If a parent has specific questions or concerns they may contact the teacher or principal.
Will visitors to the schools be required to wear masks?
Visitors to the school will be subject to the same masking expectations as students and staff while on school property. As always, visitors should consult and respect the decisions made by supervising school officials.
What if I am concerned about my child attending school in a mask optional environment due to a documented medical condition.
If there is a documented medical concern, please contact the Office of Curriculum at 518-399-9141, Ext. 85015 to discuss potential options for your child.