Dear Minisink Valley school community:
I’m writing to let you know about unexpected changes to the return of our Grade 6-12 students into the high school and middle school: For now, Grades 6-12 will remain on a hybrid instruction model, beginning tomorrow, April 12.
However, our K-5 students will follow the four day in-person, instructional model beginning tomorrow, as planned.
Here’s what’s going on:
Late Friday evening, the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) issued updated guidance for in-person instruction, social distancing, and reopening of schools. Please know that not one school district in Orange County was consulted about this guidance. We were not even given advance notice that this guidance would be issued very late on Friday.
Since that time, our district administrators and medical director have been meeting to review that guidance and its implications on our current plans.
Additionally, there have been several conversations with Orange County Department of Health (OCDOH) officials. The result of those OCDOH conversations are that we must follow the NYSDOH guidelines.
This guidance follows four levels of indicators and threshold for community transmission of COVID-19 which are low, moderate, substantial and high.
At this time, the CDC has identified Orange County as an area of high transmission. This can be viewed: COVID-19 Tracker/COVID-19 Integrated County View
In particular, please note Page 8 in the guidance document, where the NYSDOH outlines the requirement that must be followed for physical distancing in counties with a high risk of transmission:
“In counties with high risk of transmission, elementary schools can maintain physical distancing of at least three feet between students in classrooms and cohorting is recommended when possible.
“However, in middle and high schools three feet between students in classrooms is recommended only when schools can use cohorting. When schools cannot maintain cohorting, middle and high schools must maintain physical distancing of at least six feet between students in classrooms.”
The guidance also states that the CDC no longer recommends barriers as a mitigation strategy where physical distancing can’t be maintained. But, we will continue to use them as an additional mitigation strategy in addition to distancing.
Because of this revised guidance, six feet of distance must continue to be maintained at the high school and middle school. This means high school and middle school students are not able to return to five days a week at this time.
As a reminder, tomorrow, April 12:
- K-5 students will come back four days a week as planned. Remote Wednesdays resume on Wednesday, April 14. Our Buildings & Grounds team is finalizing the necessary room arrangements today. Bus schedules will follow the new plan as per the Transportation Department.
- High school and middle school students will remain on the instructional model they were prior to Spring Break. No changes will be made until the area’s community transmission level is no longer high or there is further guidance issued by the NYSDOH or the CDC. Remote Wednesdays resume Wednesday, April 14. Bus schedules and seating remain the same for high school and middle school as they were last week.
This updated information is the reality of what we have communicated throughout this pandemic school year: Plans can and will change based on a variety of factors we can and cannot control, including updated guidance/mandates and changing conditions.
While disappointing, I want to again stress that Minisink Valley has no choice but to follow all NYSDOH guidance/mandates. These decisions are made in the best interest of the good health and safety of our students, faculty and staff.
As of this afternoon, April 11, the OCDOH has yet to issue any guidance based on the NYSDOH guidance from Friday. Regardless, when that comes, we do not expect it to be less restrictive than the NYSDOH or the CDC.
Thank you for your continued patience and understanding. This situation remains fluid, and I will reach out again when new/updated information becomes available. I apologize for the inconvenience and short notice, but remain grateful for your flexibility and continued support of our work.
Brian C. Monahan