This message was emailed to families on Sunday, March 14, 2021.
March 14, 2021
Dear Wayland-Cohocton Families,
It was exactly one year ago on March 13, 2020 that our world as we knew it changed drastically. COVID-19 certainly has impacted everyone’s lives, but especially our students and all students across the country. I want to thank all of you that participated in our ThoughtExchange related to the consideration of reopening school 4 days a week at WCCS. It has generated a lot of great questions and dialogue but also a great deal of speculation, rumor and misinformation that is evident throughout social media. My intent with this communication is to provide you with factual information and to answer some questions that have been generated through the exchange. I have included a link to the results of the exchange if you are interested in diving further into it. Parent Results of the ThoughtExchange.
It is evident from the exchange that parents and guardians are eager to have students return to school. Our preference would also be to have all students at school everyday! We too are concerned with the quality and consistency of their education, their social emotional and mental health and giving them the opportunity to socialize with their peers. As educational professionals we completely agree that the best place for students is at school and we are trying to make that happen. We know that remote learning is not optimal.
For points of clarification, we are not governed by the CDC, the CDC is a federal agency that makes recommendations on regulations that the states in our country decide on whether they accept or not. In our case the NY State Department of Health makes a determination on what recommendations they accept from the CDC. Then the 62 local county health departments interpret those regulations and decide on the parameters that must be followed. Due to differing interpretations from different county health officials there are counties in our State that are operating differently. That is part of the reason that you see other local schools in our neighboring areas functioning differently. Because of that we cannot be compared to schools in Livingston County or Ontario County or Monroe County. Our school is located in Steuben County but even within Steuben County decisions are made based on the size of the school, the total number of students and physical structure of the facility. The decision to have students return is not just a board decision or a district decision, we do not operate in isolation. We work in collaboration with the County Health Department and we have been conferring with them on a weekly basis for months. Another point of clarification, the County Health Department does not tell us, “yes you can open or no you can not open”. They give us the protocols and rules we must follow based on their interpretation… if we can meet those protocols then we can open, if we cannot meet those protocols then we cannot open.
I said last summer, “every decision made will have 50% of the community disagreeing with it”. This situation is no different. Trust me, there are things that I do not agree with or understand but we must proceed in a thoughtful manner while keeping the health and safety of our students and staff at the forefront.
Other factors that we must consider include the significant number of students that we currently have that are 100% remote. We are looking at returning only 4 days a week to be able to also meet the needs of those students. Transportation is another obstacle that we must overcome. Yes, we do have a shortage of drivers but that is not just an issue at Wayland-Cohocton, it is a statewide issue and it is something that we are addressing. Unfortunately the restrictions for the number of allowable students on a bus are very rigid . There is a possibility that we might not be able to get all of our students in grades K-12 back to school 4 days a week by the end of the school year.
However, we have established an Elementary Task Force and using the feedback from the ThoughtExchange, have begun to look at creative options to get our PreK-4 students back to school in the short term. We know that there is not one age group that is more important than another but health officials have publicly declared that in-person learning for elementary students is likely to have less risk of in-school transmission than for middle schools and high schools. Returning a small number of students in intervals will also give us more control over our mitigation efforts and also hopefully allow us to continue to keep our doors open. When we get to four-day attendance, while students are in school they will be required to wear face coverings at all times (with the exception of eating) and we will be utilizing desktop barriers. It will be critical for parents to continue to complete the SNAP health portal for their children and children should stay home if they experience COVID related symptoms.
If you have concerns, questions or worries please pick up the phone and call, do not rely on social media for your answers. Opening schools post-COVID is about so much more than just opening doors and things change on a daily basis and sometimes by the hour. The only way we succeed is if educators - paraprofessionals, teachers, principals, board members, superintendents and parents/guardians and community members work collaboratively to ensure a safe and healthy learning environment for staff and students.
Eileen M. Feinman