Dear Plainedge Families and Staff,
I hope this letter finds you all staying safe and feeling well. With the close of the 2019-20 school year, please know that the hard work and tremendous efforts of our students, staff, and families during the last four months has made me truly proud and so thankful to be part of the Plainedge School District. I am awe-inspired by the ways in which our school community came together, supported one another, and persevered through the many challenges of the pandemic.
In a recent Plainedge Parent Survey, over 85% of our parents want their students back in our schools in September.
This letter serves as the first in a series of communications relating to the reopening of schools this September. As we prepare for our high school graduations later this month, and the recent opening of our Extended School Year Summer School program, we are also looking forward to the reopening of schools for the 2020-21 academic year. Even though the final decision on reopening will be made through an Executive Order from Governor Andrew Cuomo, the Plainedge Public Schools assembled a District-wide Reopening Task Force and various sub-committees to begin initial preparations. Input from administrators, teachers, staff members, and parents have and will continue to be utilized to make decisions regarding the maintenance of our buildings and facilities, the mental health of our students, the special needs of our diverse learners, and the instructional program and scheduling for potential scenarios. While there are many unanswered questions as to what September will bring, I am certain that Plainedge will be prepared to meet the academic, social, and emotional needs of our students regardless of what our reopening looks like.
At this point in time, a specific reopening plan for September is impossible to predict or solidify.
This next week, Governor Cuomo is scheduled to release the Reopening Guidelines for all schools. The work to date from our Task Force Reopening subcommittees will prove to be invaluable in creating our plans to reopen. The District is required to submit a plan to the New York State Education Department (NYSED) by July 31, 2020 for their review and final approval by August 15, 2020 in accordance with State reopening requirements. However, our various sub-committees are planning for the following reopening possibilities depending on future decisions by Governor Cuomo:
- A Regular Opening with Health/Safety Protocols
- Hybrid Model of Distance Learning and In-Person Learning
- A Return to Virtual Learning
If Virtual Learning is implemented it will be organized and run in an enhanced format. Although our hopes are for students to return in person to school in September, we would be remiss if we did not reflect and improve upon our approach to virtual learning. At any point next year, the district may be required to return to virtual learning and our sub-committee on instructional models will work diligently to make our Virtual Learning Plan more interactive, equitable, and structured with an increase in accountability. While virtual learning will never replace the quality of education that students receive with face-to-face instruction, reflection, evaluation, and survey feedback has informed our decisions regarding the revision of our Virtual Learning Plan. If at any point next year our district and/or schools are required to close for an extended period of time, a virtual learning plan will be implemented. This will include:
- A structured schedule.
- Mandated student attendance.
- Participation in synchronous (live) instruction.
- A return to a regular grading system.
Students will be required to follow the schedule that will be sent to them in late August. While we remain mindful of screen time, we must prioritize educational experiences and maximize opportunities for our teachers to interact with students and for our students to interact with each other. Whether online or in person, we are committed to providing rigorous and rich learning opportunities in meaningful blocks of time.
The District is committed to reopening schools with the intent of bringing back as many students and staff in September as possible.
There are numerous moving pieces to reopen schools as you can imagine. The Plainedge Schools is doing what many Districts chose not to do this summer; run an in-person Extended School Year Program for our special education students at our Middle School. We are in our third week now and this program is running outstandingly well! I would like to publicly recognize and compliment Ms. Murphy, our Director of Special Education and Ms. Duffy, Assistant Director of Special Education Programs and our incredible staff for implementing a socially distanced program for our staff and students. We chose to run the in-person program over continuing our virtual learning program because we heard our parents and they were clear, we need our children back in school. We also wanted to see what it would look like and how it would run.
We have learned much about what we need to do to reopen our schools in September. One area we recognized that needs to be improved is the taking of temperatures of our staff and students daily. The NYSED requirements state we must take temperatures when students and staff arrive to school and periodically throughout the day. The purpose of taking temperatures is to identify those individuals with abnormally high temperatures and redirect them to the Registered Nurse in our schools to be further examined. Having a temperature is only one indication that a person may not be well, and does not indicate they have COVID-19, but they need further review by our medical professionals on site.
We are currently taking the temperatures of students and staff before they board our busses or at the front door of the Middle School if they are a walker in our Extended School Year Summer Program. We take their temperature manually using a contactless thermometer, administered by a member of our staff. All instructional staff must also complete a COVID-19 survey daily before reporting to work. The fact is we only have eighty students in this summer program but taking temperatures has proven to be a somewhat time-consuming process to get students and staff in to the school daily. Please keep in mind this is only a small number of people in comparison to what we will be dealing with when schools reopen and a thousand staff and students arrive for classes in our secondary schools in September. We are looking to automate this process if possible.
As you may have recently seen on Fox 5 News, Plainedge continues to lead the nation in leveraging technology to address challenges we encounter in our schools daily. In an attempt to organize and run an as normal as possible arrival at our schools on a daily basis, and to avoid having to take the individual temperatures of every person entering the schools (required by NYSED), we are reviewing and testing the potential use of a variety of thermal cameras, automating the taking of temperatures for everyone entering the building.
At this time, no thermal cameras are installed in our schools and we are looking for the best solutions that can expedite entry to our schools and please know that the health, safety, and privacy of all staff and children will always be our top priority. We will not consider the use of any device that scans a person’s entire body, we are looking for a device that takes automated temperatures from a person’s head or wrist. With the release of the FOX 5 News story, we received a few inquiries from our parents and we thank them for sharing both their concerns and support about the use of thermal cameras, and for being an industry leader in the use of technology to operate our schools in a safe and healthy manner.
This is only one of the numerous areas we know need our attention in order to safely reopen our schools in September. We became aware that there are a number of potential tools to address this challenge, and we are thankful for the support of our parents always. If we determine there is a safe and viable option, the community of course will be informed when we release our district-wide reopening plans in late August. The annual District budget includes funds for the expansion of our video security system.
As always, I will continue to communicate with you as new information concerning the reopening of schools becomes available. Thank you very much for your patience, understanding, and active participation in our school community. I remain available always to everyone in the Plainedge Community should you have any additional questions. My contact information is included in all communications.
Additionally, at this time we are accepting applications from parents that are interested in volunteering to serve as a parent representative on the 2020-2021- Reopen Plainedge Schools Task Force. We meet weekly via ZOOM. Please complete the application: “CLICK HERE”
Be safe and stay well,
Edward A. Salina, Jr., Ed.D. Superintendent of Schools