Winter Update on COVID
November 16, 2021
Dear Orleans/Niagara BOCES Community:
We have now completed ten weeks of school this fall, and though the daily school experience is very different as we practice our COVID mitigation strategies to help keep each other healthy and safe, our students and staff have settled into the daily rhythms of being fully back in school.
Positive news this week includes a significant step: Pediatric COVID-19 vaccines are now available for 5-11 year olds. Vaccine appointments for children are available in the community through pediatricians, pharmacies and other locations. We continue to work alongside our county health departments’ staff to coordinate a series of vaccination events in the BOCES area. With upcoming dates being regularly issued. More detailed information will be shared on the counties’ websites. These new developments will contribute to sustaining our schools as healthy places for our students and staff to gather and learn each day.
We will continue to hold the health and safety of our students and staff, families and community as our highest priority. Our students and school staff are consistently following the COVID-19 mitigation steps. Our Health and Administrative staff manage case identification and contact tracing efforts thoroughly and consistently in collaboration with the county health department(s). Third party vendors are conducting required testing in various locations at the local school districts and BOCES for those unvaccinated or undisclosed staff as required by law.
We continue to see high COVID-19 transmission in the Western, New York community. Unfortunately, we have observed evidence of school transmission in some locations. We also have observed breakthrough cases among fully vaccinated individuals. This is a concern for the health of our staff and students as well as the staffing and operation of our schools.
We see every day that our children benefit most from in-person instruction and face-to-face daily interactions with their teachers and peers. We are aware that our youngest learners and some with special needs struggle without in-person learning. We know that many families face challenges in providing care for children during the day, when parents and guardians must work. We continue to conduct full-time instruction at all of our sites while staying nimble in case of issues.
It is more important than ever for students and staff to remain home when experiencing COVID-19 like symptoms and remain home for ten (10) days after symptoms begin unless receiving a negative PCR test. In these cases, we are seeing vaccinated students and adults continue to be far less impacted by illness. It is clear that our high levels of vaccination is provide substantial protection. We appreciate all who have been vaccinated, and we continue to strongly urge all who qualify to obtain a vaccination.
In consideration of COVID-19 impact and preparing for absences, we invite those who are interested in supporting our efforts this year to please consider signing on as a substitute. In doing so, you offer your talent, energy, and experience in making a positive contribution to our students and schools. One day per week or even a day per month could make all the difference for our students.
Despite adherence to requirements, we do have incidents of positive COVID cases that are necessitating contact tracing and/or room closures. Thanks for being flexible as conditions change.
Out of an abundance of caution and based upon the recommendations from the New York State Education Department, the Departments of Health, our insurance providers, and other knowledgeable agencies, we continue to follow our safety protocols. In making our decisions, we are monitoring local data supplied to us by the county health departments, as well as statements issued by:
- The Centers for Disease Control (CDC): “Given new evidence on the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant...CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status;” and
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): “All students older than two years and all school staff should wear face masks at school (unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit use).”
Currently, our plans require the following protocols:
- Wearing of masks, with approved breaks while in rooms
- Masks will be worn by vaccinated and unvaccinated staff, students and visitors at all times while indoors.
- Masks are not required to be worn outside while on school property by either vaccinated or unvaccinated students and staff.
- Bus Travel
- Masks will be worn on buses by both vaccinated and unvaccinated students and staff.
- Safety Protocols
- The social distancing guidance (minimum of three feet between students in classrooms, minimum of six feet between persons in all other circumstances) will be followed whenever practicable.
- All other safety protocols (frequent cleaning and disinfecting of high touch
surfaces, etc.) will continue as currently in place.
Throughout the pandemic, we have made it our #1 priority to get our students and staff back in safely, in person, every day; and that remains our goal.
I praise all as we continue to diligently follow our health and safety protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and wish everyone a safe and Happy Holiday season!
Clark J. Godshall, Ed.D.