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Superintendent Update on Status of In-Person

Dear Parents, Guardians, and Students,
 
I realize that most if not all of us have reached the height of our stress levels regarding COVID-19, especially when we look at the impact the pandemic continues to have on our children. I share your feelings and am equally frustrated with the seemingly endless situation we are presently living under. In addition to the stresses brought upon by the pandemic, I realize that our recent string of snow closings, which required the District to shift to all-remote days a number of times, has only made the situation more frustrating.

I want to assure you that our administrative team continuously reviews our current educational practices with the goal of providing the best educational experience for all students. We are all looking forward to the day we can safely return to full-time, in-person instruction. Until then, my goal continues to be balancing the many safety/health requirements we are required to follow with my promise to keep our schools open as much as possible, provide as many clubs/activities (albeit virtually) we can, and to support the return of all sports.

As you may have heard, both Governor Cuomo and President Biden have recently suggested that schools should return to in-person learning five (5) days a week. I completely agree; however, at this time, state and federal guidelines prevent us from doing so. We first must see specific changes to the state and federal guidance, which is issued by various government entities reporting to both Governor Cuomo and President Biden.

One of the significant challenges we face is the need to provide sufficient square footage to accommodate six (6) foot social distancing in our classrooms, cafeterias, and school buses. The guidance provided to schools for social distancing requirements can be found in these documents:

  • New York State Department of Health Interim Guidance for In-Person Instruction at Pre-K to Grade 12 Schools During the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency
  • New York State Department of Health Reopening New York-Checklist for Pre-K to Grade 12 School Reopening Plans
  • New York State Department of Health Reopening New York-Guidelines for In-Person Instruction at Pre-K to Grade 12 Schools
  • New York State Education Department Reopening Schools Guidance Document
  • CDC Guidance Documents for Schools

In addition, prior to reopening, the District was required to submit a re-opening plan to the New York State Education Department with assurances that we would meet certain requirements, including a written protocol for keeping a distance of at least six (6) feet whenever possible.

Given the available square footage in our classrooms, buses, and cafeterias, we simply do not have the physical space to bring in more students at this time and still meet this six-foot distance requirement. We are looking at the possibility of targeting some particular grades/groups of students who we could perhaps start to increase their in-person instructional time. Until the regulations are amended to reduce the space for social distancing, however, our options are limited.

It is concerning to me that both the state and federal governments are advocating the return to in-person learning five (5) days a week without first amending the state and federal guidance we must operate under and/or informing the public that many school districts, including Highland, do not have adequate physical space to do so. This sends a mixed message that is confusing to us all, resulting in increased frustration at a time people are desperate for normalcy in the school day.

Due to the hard work of our parents, students, faculty, and staff, we have been quite successful in preventing the spread of the virus in our schools, which has brought a path forward into focus. It is almost within our reach, and I assure you that I will continue to review all of our safety protocols and that Highland will be ready to expand in-person instruction as soon as we are given permission to do so by our state and federal authorities.

Sincerely,

Thomas M. Bongiovi
Superintendent of Schools