Important updates on the return to four days of in-person instruction for Grades K-5 and Grades 6-12

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Dear Minisink Valley parents/guardians:

We’ve concluded our second week of four days of K-5 in-person instruction with great success! There’s a notable and very much needed sense of normalcy in our elementary buildings. As you’d imagine, this has been missing over these recent months.

Our K-5 students have been simply remarkable in quickly assimilating to new procedures and ways of functioning in our buildings while happily seeing so many more peers in their classrooms.

Our faculty and staff have been equally amazing in guiding students on this new pathway of “near” normalcy while providing outstanding instruction and overseeing their good health and safety.

This is why Minisink Valley is simply the outstanding school district that it is.

Here’s an important update I’m happy to share: We are interpreting recent New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) webinar information, given to Orange County school superintendents, as allowing us to switch to quarantining of close contacts only.

Specifically, according to the webinar transcript: “Contact tracing will look for individuals who have been within six feet of a case for at least 10 minutes in a 24-hour period, even if masks are properly worn. So that should be taken into  consideration as school districts update their plans.”  

Orange County Health Commission  Dr. Irina Gelman has consistently stated she follows state guidance on quarantines and this update comes directly from the state health department.   As an added measure of assurance, we consulted with Minisink Valley Medical Director Dr. Sara Little who supports the revised NYSDOH quarantine guidance.

However, based on this new guidance, due to evidence that transmission risk ranges by the age of the student, the CDC recommends that physical distancing requirements differ by grade level and community transmission risk.

Evidence indicates there is lower susceptibility and incidence of COVID-19 among younger children than compared to teenagers. Because of this, in-person instruction represents less risk of on-site transmission in elementary schools compared to middle and high schools.

What you need to know: 

The CDC recommends the use of two measures of community burden to determine the level of transmission risk: The total number of new cases per 100,000 persons in the past seven days, and percentage positivity rate during the last seven days. If the two indicators suggest different levels, the actions corresponding to the higher threshold should be chosen.

Note: The transmission level for any given location changes over time and will be reassessed weekly in order to continuously inform planning and  decision-making.

What are the levels of indicators and threshold for community transmission of COVID-19?

  •  In counties with low and moderate risk of transmission: Elementary, middle, and high schools can maintain physical distancing of at least three feet between students in classrooms.
  • In counties with substantial risk of transmission: Elementary, middle, and high schools can maintain physical distancing of at least three feet between students in classrooms and cohorting is recommended when possible.
  •  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.

What does this mean for our hopeful secondary school four days of in-person instruction? 

Unfortunately, Orange County’s COVID-19 cases are currently between 200 and 500 reported cases per 100,000 population. This is considered “high transmission.”

Based on the guidance above, we are still permitted to maintain our current four day of in-person instruction on the elementary level. But this isn’t possible for Grades 6-12.

Why are K-5 grades permitted to begin full in-person instruction, but not Grades 6-12? 

Our K-5 students travel through the building in cohorts — or the same group — during the school day. (Please refer to the above CDC guidance). That’s why they meet the CDC criteria to attend school in-person for four days a week while Orange County is in high transmission risk status.

It’s a different situation for 6-12 students, who switch classes each period and have a different mix of students in all their classes. Because their instruction is not cohort-based, they don’t meet the CDC criteria to attend school in-person for four days a week while Orange County is in high transmission risk status.  We have no choice but to adhere to these criteria at this time.

When can 6-12 students pivot to four days of in-person instruction?  

Once Orange County drops from “high” to “substantial” risk of transmission. Transmission results are released weekly and include the seven-day running average. As soon as this takes place, we’ll be in a position to quickly bring 6-12 students back into the physical classroom.

When will we know the timeline/dates of when 6-12 students can go back fully for five days of in person instruction?  

Our hybrid instructional model has occasionally pivoted to fully remote days and, for some buildings, extended remote days due to quarantine issues.  We are well-prepared for unexpected pivoting. This now also includes moving back and forth between our current hybrid model and four days of in-person instruction for 6-12 students.

As soon as we have confirmation that we’re in the “substantial” level, we’ll pivot our 6-12 students to four days of in-person instruction. Adversely, if we are in “substantial” and move to “high,” we would then need to pivot from full in-person to our current hybrid model.

6-12 students will continue hybrid instruction until we notify you otherwise. Additionally, Remote Wednesday days will continue districtwide through May 12, and will be reassessed that week.

While this new guidance allowed our K-5 students to come back into the physical classrooms, we know it’s caused disappointment and stress because we cannot have our 6-12 students back.  I’m as frustrated as our 6-12 parents are, however I remain cautiously optimistic that will change.  Our community can continue to help by following all mitigation practices so that our rates can decrease. I also encourage everyone to consider being vaccinated.

As always, I remain grateful for your continued patience, support and, most importantly, grace as we move toward the conclusion of this school year. I will continue to stay in touch.


Brian C. Monahan