Dear Minisink Valley school community:
As promised, I’m continuing to keep you updated on the status of our plans for the reopening of school on Sept. 1.
As you may recall, on Aug. 5, all of us learned that school districts should no longer expect any reopening guidance from the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH).
In a statement, Health Commissioner Dr. Harold Zucker said: “With the end of the state disaster emergency on June 25, 2021, school districts are reestablished as the controlling entity for schools. Schools and school districts should develop plans to open in-person in the fall as safely as possible, and I recommend following guidance from the CDC and local health departments.”
Shortly after that, New York State Education Department Commissioner Dr. Betty Rosa released a letter sent to NYSDOH saying the policy reversal by the Cuomo administration was “troubling.”
In her letter, Dr. Rosa said: “The discontinuance of Executive Order 202 does not affect DOH’s statutory responsibilities and the circumstances enveloping the Executive Chamber this week should not otherwise deter DOH from the proper execution of its responsibilities to protect the public health.
She cited DOH’s obligations under Public Health Law sections 201 and 206 to advise local units of government regarding threats to public health.
She also wrote: “Notwithstanding the stated position of the executive that his responsibility has ended with his rescission of the COVID-19 state of emergency, we hope and trust that DOH will fulfill the promises previously made by the governor’s office that DOH guidance would be forthcoming.,”
As we continue to see how this plays out, the district is continuing our communications with Orange County officials. As we near the two-week mark for reopening schools, I ask again for your continued patience.
Below are my comments from the Aug. 5 Board of Education meeting:
“I’d like to make a few comments about today’s news. Like you, we are aware that today, Gov. Cuomo’s office has indicated the state Department of Health will not be issuing COVID-19 guidelines for reopening, and will be leaving COVID-19 related decisions up to local school districts.
“School is opening in approximately four weeks. As we near our Sept. 1 opening day, here’s what we want you to know and understand:
“The district puts the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff as our highest priority, always. The decisions made last year, which always followed federal, state and local mandates, were made in the best interests of health and safety.
“Like other school districts, Minisink Valley is reviewing data on local conditions, which does include an uptick in COVID-19 cases in Orange County….tied primarily to the Delta variant and in nearly all cases, to those who are unvaccinated.
“We continue to monitor this information, consult with local health and government officials, including our very competent medical director Dr. Little, in addition to reviewing information from national, state and local agencies. It’s a painstakingly thorough process, and we take this very, very seriously.
“Our due diligence continues. It’s too premature to make any announcements about mask wearing in our buildings at this time. We believe the next few weeks will provide important information about local conditions, and we will continue to rely on the guidance of trusted medical professionals aligned with this district in addition to those on the local, state and federal levels.
“This is important to stress again: All COVID-19 decisions we have made and will make —no matter how popular or unpopular they may be —- are intended to protect student, faculty and staff health and well-being. I appreciate your patience as our work continues.
“In the meantime, as I’ve said before in my many written communications, if you haven’t done so already, please give every consideration to becoming vaccinated. I understand it’s very personal decision.
“We have always been transparent and timely in our communications, regardless of whether it’s information you want to hear or not, but you need to know. When the district makes a final determination of how we will proceed, we will quickly communicate it to you.”
I will continue to keep you updated. Thank you.
Brian C. Monahan