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RCSD Community Update: 1/8/21

January 8, 2021

Dear RCSD Community,

I hope you had a restful, relaxing winter recess. For many, this week has been anything but restful or relaxing. The events in Washington, D.C., the appearance of new strains of COVID-19, and the slow roll-out of the vaccine have combined to make this a stressful time for many in our community. Hopefully, we will soon begin to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

COVID-19 Cases

Since returning from winter recess, we are seeing many more positive cases among the school community; we were informed of 19 this past Sunday alone. It is not clear if the increase is a result of higher levels of testing, holiday gatherings, travel, or some combination of the three. Fortuitously, because of the break, we are seeing fewer in-school exposures and quarantining as a result of these cases. I want to note that we still have not seen any transmission within our schools.

New York COVID-19 Vaccination Schedule

The COVID-19 vaccine is currently being distributed to group 1A (approximately 2M people) which includes healthcare workers and residents of care homes. Next in line is group 1B (approximately 3M people). Teachers and education workers are included in group 1B, along with first responders and individuals over age 75. There have been reports in the news media of vaccines being distributed in error to educators, including some in the New Rochelle school district. Governor Cuomo announced yesterday that no individuals in group 1B should be receiving the vaccine at this time. Please be advised that we have also heard reports of scammers targeting teachers by claiming to offer early vaccinations and requiring completion of online forms that require personal information. Please be wary of any solicitations regarding COVID-19 vaccinations. 

We do not have any indication of when group 1A will be complete and 1B will begin receiving the vaccine. So far, the chief problem seems to be a lack of available vaccine doses. New York has received just 900,000 doses thus far. For more information about the vaccination schedule from New York State, click here.

COVID-19 Testing Update

In a press conference this Monday, Governor Cuomo announced that school districts may make the decision to stay open even if the community positivity rate is above 9%. This is not aligned with current written guidance and has created significant confusion for local health department officials and my fellow superintendents, given that it’s unclear what a school district’s community entails. Is it the town itself or the county the school district resides in? We do not have access to the positivity rate for Rye City and cannot get responses to our inquiries in trying to find that rate. We have reached out to the State for clarification. 

Per New York State Department of Health guidance, school districts are currently not allowed to administer State-provided COVID-19 tests unless they are in a designated micro-cluster zone. At this juncture, micro-cluster designation seems to be based more on area hospital capacity than on positivity rates. In order to make informed decisions about reopening or closure, school superintendents in the Lower Hudson Valley region have asked the State to allow schools to begin using State-provided COVID-19 tests for surveillance testing. Surveillance testing entails administering tests weekly to a portion of the school population to establish a baseline understanding of the COVID-19 positivity rate in the community.  If we receive approval, we would be able to begin surveillance testing in the Rye schools. I will be sure to provide updates and new information as I receive it and if surveillance testing proves to be a feasible option for the District. 

County Executive Latimer at BOE Meeting

County Executive George Latimer provided an update on County news at the Board of Education meeting this Tuesday. To watch the video, click here and begin watching at 18:23. He discussed the increase in COVID-19 cases, micro-cluster designations, and the vaccination schedule. I thank him for taking time out of his own jam-packed schedule to brief us and am so grateful to have him at the helm of Westchester County during the pandemic. He has been incredibly accessible and helpful.

Survey Update

Thank you to the more than one thousand of you who took the time to complete the District’s reopening survey before the break. We are in the process of analyzing the data and will have results to share back with the community in the coming weeks. The results will be used to inform the District’s next steps towards reopening and any potential modifications to our hybrid model.

Finally, we are already looking ahead to the 2021-22 school year. We will have a draft calendar to present at the next Board of Education meeting on January 19. We will share the calendar with the community when it becomes final, likely in February. 

Enjoy the weekend and stay safe. 

Sincerely,

Eric Byrne, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools