While considering recommendations from the New York State Education Department, Center for Disease Controls and incoming Governor Kathy Hochul, the superintendent at Oakfield-Alabama Central School said the district’s reopening plan released today primarily reflects the wishes of its staff and its residents.
The plan formulated by John Fisgus calls for five days of in-person learning when classes resume on Sept. 8, with the wearing of masks or face coverings for students and staff while in classrooms left up to the individual’s personal choice.
Per the document, “Students and District staff are ‘highly recommended” to wear masks while in classrooms during instruction and learning, but it is NOT REQUIRED regardless of vaccination status. This is a personal choice and decision.”
The protocols do, however, require mask wearing on school buses, entering the school buildings and reporting to classrooms, and while traveling in the hallways between classes and/or to different locations within the buildings.
Fisgus (photo at right) said results of a survey he sent out on Aug. 5 separately to district staff and separately to residents is at the heart of the directive.
“We were looking to get a feel for their thoughts on masking -- thinking that there could be quite a difference in philosophies as, obviously, the teachers and the district staff can have a difference in opinion from that of the community,” Fisgus said.
What he found, however, was that both groups – staff and residents – were “right in line with each other,” he said.
RESPONDENTS WANT ABILITY TO CHOOSE
“Overwhelmingly, in summary, they (staff and residents) want the personal choice to wear a mask or not. It was 75 or 80 percent in favor of that,” he reported.
The O-A survey featured seven questions about masks, with respondents asked to rate their choices from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Fisgus said he received more than 400 responses.
The questions were as follows:
- Students age 4-11 years old who cannot be vaccinated at this time should be required to wear masks at school at all times.
- Students age 12 and older who can be vaccinated and are not should be required to wear masks at school at all times while indoors.
- Students age 12 and older who can be vaccinated and are vaccinated should be required to wear masks at school at all times.
- Adults who are not vaccinated should be required to wear a mask.
- Adults who are vaccinated should be required to wear a mask.
- The O-A district should require that all staff and students wear masks at all times while in school.
- The O-A district should leave mask wearing for staff and students as a personal choice and decision.
“Knowing what our local community wants and what our district staff is favoring, that is what we’re going to base our decisions on at this time,” he said. “But also know that we will have flexibility as we will be watching the seven-day rolling average. If something comes down that we’re having an increase in spread or whatever, certainly these protocols can change.”
INSIDE THE O-A REOPENING PLAN
Other key points of the O-A reopening plan are as follows:
- While we will try to maintain 3-6 feet of social distance, some classrooms and learning activities will return to group work with close collaboration among students and our teachers.
- Physical Education classes, Band and Chorus Ensembles and lessons, will return to normal operations in their regular classroom environments.
- Cafeteria operations will return to normal. Students will be seated at our original tables as assigned within each of our buildings.
- If anyone prefers to wear a mask while on campus, they will have the ability to do so with the respect of all students and staff members.
- The District will continue its high levels of ventilation, sanitation, and cleaning each day.
- We ask that each student and District staff member continue the practice of good hygiene by washing hands frequently and maintaining the proper social distance from one another, whenever possible.
- We ask that your child(ren) and our District staff members stay home when ill and contact the appropriate school nurse.
- It is NOT REQUIRED for families and District employees to fill out the daily health screening form in ParentSquare this year.
- In the absence of any future school mandates regarding interscholastic sport competitions from NYSPHSAA, masks are *highly recommended* but NOT REQUIRED during practices and competitions. Players and coaches have the personal choice and right to wear a mask if desired.
- Our extracurricular activities and events at school will take place throughout the year and the wearing of masks is *highly recommended* but NOT REQUIRED by students and advisors. Any outside visitors to our campus for school events are *highly recommended* to wear masks, but it is NOT REQUIRED, regardless of vaccination status. This is a personal choice and decision.
*Please be advised of the following regulations regarding “close contacts” and “quarantining”:
- A Close contact is defined as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected individual for a cumulative total of 15 minutes. Close contacts, along with the infected individual, will need to quarantine if identified in contact tracing efforts. In the classroom setting, the close contact definition EXCLUDES students who were within 6 feet of an infected individual if BOTH the infected individual and exposed student(s) were wearing a mask.
- Fully vaccinated students and teachers ARE NOT required to quarantine, however, they should be tested 3-5 days after exposure, even if asymptomatic, and wear a mask until their test result is negative.
- Quarantine period is 10 days.
DAILY MONITORING WILL TAKE PLACE
The District will continue each day to monitor the health and wellness of our students and District staff, along with the localized spread rate of COVID-19 and the Delta variant in Genesee County and our surrounding towns and villages.
Please be advised that the above protocols and procedures could change within 1-12 hours if the District feels it necessary for the health and protection of our students and District staff. Decisions will be based upon our current health status within our buildings and may be based upon the 7-day rolling average of transmission in our area. As well, any future mandates from the NYSDOH or NYSED may alter these plans.
Fisgus said the district’s board of education signed off on the reopening plan and he met with the teachers’ union earlier today to share the guidelines. On Thursday, he participated along with other superintendents in a Zoom meeting with Genesee Valley BOCES District Superintendent Kevin MacDonald.
“We’re all working together to try to figure out what is best for our region but, more importantly, what’s best for our local school districts,” he said.
Fisgus expects that the reopening document “will be fiercely circulated around the area,” and decided to release it despite receiving NYSED’s guidance late yesterday afternoon. Also, on Thursday, Hochul came out in favor of universal mask wearing in schools.
BOCES LEADER: 'WE'RE IN A HOLDING PATTERN'
MacDonald, speaking for the 22 schools affiliated with Genesee Valley BOCES, said most districts are in “a bit of a holding pattern” as recommendations continue to come out.
“We’ve heard now that incoming Governor Hochul is in favor of school masks, so I guess, right now, there’s not a rush. We know we have to communicate with our communities what’s happening, but in terms of a mask mandate, I don’t think we’re there yet,” he said.
MacDonald said he plans to touch base with other administrators on a weekly basis until the first week of September, with the overarching goal of ensuring “we get all kids in school every day in the safest way possible for students and staff.”
“Each superintendent has the best feel and bead on their community and what they think is best, and in the end that’s what we all have to do – what we think is best,” he said.
Notre Dame High School Principal Wade Bianco said the private school’s plan is to follow the guidelines set by the state and the county in order to comply.
“We’re going to try to give the kids the least restrictive environment as possible, based on those guidelines,” he said, adding that he has scheduled a staff meeting for next Wednesday and expects a reopening plan decision to be made at that time.