August 16, 2021 / plan updated 8/31
Dear BKW families,
With the issuance of school opening guidance by the NYS Education Department last week, we are now in a position to share with our community the BKW Schools opening plan for the 2021-22 school year. We are grateful for the Department’s leadership to issue this guidance, in light of the absence of any clear direction from other State agencies. Doing so gives all NYS school districts a basis for managing the COVID-19 pandemic in its ongoing presence in our communities.
With that said, it is important for our community to understand a few things related to the background of the development of the BKW Layered Mitigation School Opening Plan: Fall 2021 (updated 9/1):
1. Over the last eighteen months, the 24 Superintendents of the region and the Capital Region BOCES leaders have worked together to navigate this pandemic. No one has ever previously seen this kind of situation as it relates to the operation of schools, so collaboration has led to the best thinking and practice for everyone in the region.
2. We began seeking guidance for the fall opening in April. We did not receive a response.
3. As we moved toward summer, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Association of Pediatrics issued new guidance and recommendations. We began to focus on the concept of “Layered Mitigation Plans,” as outlined in the guidance. A template for such a plan was developed.
4. Locally, in July, our BKW Board of Education sought feedback from the community regarding masking, protocols for a “mitigation plan,” and potential choices of instructional delivery if masks were mandated. That feedback is embedded in the plan itself.
5. The template was distributed to internal stakeholders more than two weeks ago for feedback and suggestions, resulting in a two-week process of refining the plan in each of the strategy areas listed.
6. The Board of Education has had several public discussions regarding the September opening process and has been an active contributor to the evolution of the document.
The process of developing this opening plan has been thorough, collaborative, and grounded in the knowledge we learned from last year, and it represents the best interests of our students, staff, families, and community in the current situation with the pandemic as we understand it. We acknowledge the dynamic nature of the pandemic and the importance of being patient and purposeful in responding to daily shifts in circumstances. The plan is the result of a very measured and deliberative process.
Last year we learned that we can manage the COVID virus with diligent practice of the safety strategies. When we are committed to safety, and each of us does our part, we can control the transmission of the virus in our schools. The data is very clear on that.
Our plan for the coming year has two objectives: 1) Health and safety of students, staff, and families is a priority, and 2) Getting all students back to in-person instruction, and keeping them there despite any identification of positive COVID cases, is critically important. Therefore, the plan is designed around consideration of the CDC and NYSED guidance, our understanding of the four categories of transmission, understanding local data in comparison to county-wide data, and our knowledge gained from last year. Again, the plan represents the best thinking of all external and internal stakeholders. It is also consistent with the other districts in our region, while allowing for flexibility for application in our local circumstances.
There is one key idea to share related to local data in comparison to county data. Although we may have fewer infections or transmissions than the county, and could then operate in a less restrictive category, we must remember we have about 75 students traveling each day to out-of-district placements for a variety of programs, and they participate with students from across the region. Thus, we must factor their experience into our plan and our application of it over time.
At the end of the day, we have a very thorough approach to managing this virus. There may be differences of opinion over one strategy or another, but we can all agree on the principle of safety for all, and the need to keep students in school, rather than being sent home on quarantine.
I want to thank everyone who has reached out to me in the past nine weeks. I have appreciated hearing from you, understanding your perspectives, thinking all things through, and collaborating further to make the best plan to benefit the most people, especially our students. Despite differences, the conversations will lead to the best action. The process and resulting action reflect excellence as a community and as a school organization.
At the end of the day, students are impacted by every decision we make. Our 750 students need us to rally around ensuring they have the best learning experiences every day. Their future depends on it. As a community, we are obligated to make that happen, even in the face of a pandemic, and especially when we know how to do just that.
Thank you for your commitment to make our district one that seeks to be excellent.
In service to the BKW community,
Dr. Timothy Mundell
Superintendent of Schools
View plan as images below