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RCSD Community Update: 1/15/21

January 15, 2021

Dear RCSD Community,

The District has seen a marked decrease in the number of new COVID-19 cases and in the number of students, faculty, and staff required to quarantine. There have been two positive cases at Rye High School and one at Midland School this week. Only the Midland case required any additional individual people to be quarantined, and, due to the new quarantine guidelines, the number of people required to quarantine as a result was quite small. Our hard work and months of lobbying the Department of Health seem to have paid off, enabling us to quarantine far fewer individuals. For more information about the Westchester County Department of Health’s new quarantine guidelines, see my communication from this Monday by clicking here. I am very hopeful that both of these encouraging new trends will continue.

Surveillance Testing

After many calls to the State and County, the District has confirmed that we may begin using State-provided COVID-19 tests for the purposes of surveillance testing.  Surveillance testing can be useful to the District on a number of fronts. It would enable us to stay open should the community positivity rate rise above 9%; it could allow us to quickly identify and quarantine positive individuals, thus lowering the risk to other staff and students; and it could give us a baseline understanding of the rate of positivity in our school community which will hopefully allow us to proceed with reopening more quickly.

We have been working to develop a surveillance testing plan and will be discussing it on Tuesday evening at our next Board of Education meeting. Please note that the State-provided non-invasive nasal swab tests are not considered diagnostic tests and cannot be used to opt out of either travel-related or exposure-related quarantine.

Teachers/Staff Receiving Vaccines

Last Friday evening, Governor Cuomo announced that education professionals were eligible to begin signing up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Many of our teachers, staff, and administrators were able to successfully register to get their first shot of the vaccine, with appointment dates ranging from this week through to the last week of April. We have heard repeatedly about how impressed people are with the highly-organized and efficient process at the Westchester County Center. We also know that some colleagues have experienced the frustration of an appointment being canceled due to the shortage of vaccines at a particular vaccination site. The process for scheduling a vaccine appointment can be rather easy or completely frustrating. This week, an evening activity of mine was assisting my mother-in-law and her friends with scheduling appointments. The online system can be especially tricky for those who find technology intimidating, but it is an efficient, streamlined process. If you’ve got some basic tech skills then you may consider helping out an elderly neighbor or relative in navigating the process. 

I’ve been asked a number of questions about the impact of educators being vaccinated on schools. At the moment, there are many factors to consider and little clarity on the issue. Any changes in what we are required to do must come from the State either through an executive order or via NYS DOH guidance changes. There is much still unknown about the practical impact of the vaccination program, but I will be sure to provide updates as we learn more. 

Survey Results and Focus Group Videos

Results from the District’s reopening survey are available on the District’s website by clicking here. Links to videos of listening sessions the District held with parents in December can be found here. A few key findings/takeaways: parents/guardians have for the most part been satisfied with the communications from the District, the District’s safety protocols, and with the quality of the instruction the students are receiving given the challenges presented by COVID-19. Of real concern is the lack of socialization students are experiencing with their peers. The survey results also made it abundantly clear that parents would like their students to have more in-person time in schools if the health and safety guidelines allow it.  

The District is exploring options for potential changes for the spring based on the survey results, listening sessions, teacher and administrator feedback, as well as the current state of the virus and local positivity rates. We are in the process of exploring many different possibilities including modifications to cleaning protocols, safety processes, schedules, and our instructional models. No decisions have been made as we are still deeply engaged in gathering information, exploring the challenges and benefits of potential shifts, and determining what steps, resources, and time are needed. As safety remains our highest priority, any changes will be made in a careful, deliberate manner. As we engage in this process, we will be providing more information publicly and seeking feedback. As such, there will be more information shared in the coming weeks.

Race, Inclusivity and Community Task Force

On Monday, school is closed in observance of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King’s work was and continues to be an inspiration to so many of us and serves as a compass point as we work toward becoming a nation where all are welcome, included, have opportunities, and can live freely and without fear. Our nation is in turmoil right now and we are bombarded with messages of hate, fear, and violence. While we may not be able to influence what is happening across our country, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that in our schools all feel welcome, included, and have equal opportunities to learn, grow, and develop in a safe, nurturing environment. When Dr. King was alive, many people were scared of the change he sought to inspire and of a world where things might be different. I see some of that fear in our community today as the work of our Race, Inclusivity and Community Task Force moves ahead. The task force has spent the first half of the year getting to know each other and to begin defining how we will learn about the experiences of those who have walked and continue to walk the halls of our schools. The task force member volunteers from our school and broader community have been trying to determine how best to gather the necessary information and to hear the stories of those who have felt excluded and have been mistreated because of their identity, race, creed, or disability. The group has been engaged in determining a thoughtful process of listening and learning that will commence this spring. 

In the coming days, we will launch a Race, Inclusivity and Community Task Force page on the school district website. On the page, you will find the names of the members of the task force along with the charge and purpose of the group. There will also be links to important sites such as the NYS Department of Education with specific information on the State’s Culturally Responsive Education initiative. Regular updates with timely and accurate information will be posted and available for the community to view. 

As Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Acceptance and inclusion matter. Having schools where all feel safe, welcome, and included matters. While the process of creating such schools may sometimes be uncomfortable or difficult, we must still move forward, not remaining silent, and have the difficult conversations that will help us move forward as an equitable, inclusive school system. 

Have a good weekend and stay well. 

Sincerely,

Eric Byrne, Ed.D.

Superintendent of Schools