School Leaders Answer Reopening School Questions; Highlight Layered Mitigation Plan

As school leaders and staff prepare for the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, and bring all students back to school full time, there are still some questions about how this school year will look in regards to the ongoing pandemic and health and safety measures that may need to be put in place at schools.

In Governor Hochul’s press conference on Tuesday, Aug. 24, she said she would make school openings one of her top priorities. Although details for school policies are still to come, she expressed her support for mandating universal masking in schools and requiring school personnel to be vaccinated, among other things.

UPDATED: Masks are required to be worn in all BH-BL facilities. The district will be following guidance of the state law and requiring everyone in district buildings to wear a face covering. There will be frequent mask breaks for staff and students throughout the day. 

As Superintendent Patrick McGrath shared at the Aug. 25 Board of Education meeting, everyone at BH-BL is focused on returning to school in a normal capacity. The district is welcoming all grades 1-12 students back to school Sept. 8, and kindergarten students on Sept. 9. Opening Day for all staff is Sept. 1, followed by time on Sept. 2 for teachers to get their classrooms set up. Additionally, students this year can expect to see extracurricular activities and clubs be offered once again. School buildings will be open, elementary students will have recess, school schedules are back to normal, there are no waves in the drop-off and pick-up procedures this year, and buses will run as usual.

“We want to see as much normalcy as possible, but we must also prepare for peaks and valleys in the rate of transmission of this virus this year,” says Superintendent McGrath.

As part of the back-to-school preparations, Dr. McGrath shared with parents a Districtwide Layered Mitigation Protocols Plan that outlines health and safety protocols (i.e., masking, social distancing, etc.) that will be implemented at four different levels based on any forthcoming state mandates and the guidance of infectious disease experts.

“Along with following the regulations provided by the NYS Department of Health, which will govern much of our implementation of the layered mitigation protocols, the district will also use guidance from the CDC, the NYS Department of Education, our county health officials, and our school physician to advise the mitigation plan,” states McGrath.

Upon sharing the Mitigation Plan with parents on Aug. 19, McGrath welcomed feedback questions to be answered at an “Opening School Q&A Session.” Based on the feedback, Dr. McGrath made several adjustments to the format of the original Mitigation Plan. At the Aug. 25 “Opening School Q&A Session and board meeting, McGrath walked the board and the online and in-person audiences through the updated plan and explained what students and parents could see at any of the four levels.

“The plan should really be viewed as a communication tool for letting parents and students know what the expectations are at each level,” adds McGrath. The plan will not be switching from level to level on a daily basis. The level of response will be chosen at the direction of CDC and Department of Health Guidance. The chart describes briefly the mitigation protocol the district will follow in each area of focus. (Please note, the tiered mitigation strategy is fluid and protocols may be adjusted to match guidance.) Follow this link to view the Layered Mitigation Plan. 

Q&A Session

With more than 150 questions and comments submitted for the Q&A Session, Superintendent McGrath, as well as Assistant Superintendents Collins and Abdoo, spent nearly one and a half hours responding. Many of the questions were focused on the logistics of opening school (i.e., physical distancing, transportation, temperature checks, mask requirements, etc.) and the mitigation plan, as well as vaccines, pool testing, and quarantine protocols. Follow this link to watch a recording of the Q&A Session. We will also publish the questions and answers in written form on a FAQ section on the website.

The most often submitted question pertained to whether or not students and staff will be required to wear masks during the school any next year. UPDATED: Per Governor Hochul, the answer to that question, as of right now, is yes. Masks are required for all staff, students, and visitors indoors. The district will be implementing the protocols of Level 4 of the layered Mitigation Plan. At this level, students and staff are required to wear a mask indoors throughout the day except during mask breaks, when outside, or when eating or drinking.

During the privilege of the floor portion of the board meeting, 13 people signed up to provide public comments to the board. A majority of speakers focused their comments on masks with several sharing personal anecdotes and citing studies to explain why they support or do not support universal mask requirements.  A few others expressed their desire to have a choice when it comes to wearing masks.

“We know our community has differing viewpoints about children wearing masks,” says Board President David Versocki. “And while all sides have their reasons, and we respect each individual person’s opinion and belief, our priority is to have students and staff return to school full time and to keep them in school. Mask wearing has been a topic at many other districts’ school board meetings this past month. I’d be remiss if I didn’t commend our community for attending meetings and sharing their passionate views with us in a public setting. And even when we disagree about topics, our community and public speakers continue to display civility and respect toward each other. We, as a nation and as a community, are going through a physically and emotionally trying time, but the fact that we remain courteous and professional toward one another regardless of our positions makes me proud to be a Spartan.”

Please continue to check your email and the website for updates and news pertaining to opening schools, the district’s mitigation level, and news about Governor Hochul’s mandates.