Dr. James Kaishian has been superintendent of the Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District (BMUFSD) since August 2000. We recently spoke so that he could share some of his thoughts on what the 2021-22 school year might look like for the district.
As Covid cases continue to decrease and vaccinations increase, what is Briarcliff’s current plan for back to school in September?
“In years past I would have already written to families with finalized school opening plans for September, but Covid cases are once again rising and things have become rather fluid. Although I’m optimistic about the upcoming school year, the trajectory of the pandemic and new data surrounding the highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 Delta strain provide reason for renewed concern.
While carefully monitoring regional health metrics, we do plan near normal school operations come September. The District’s plan will require masks be worn by all students, staff and visitors while indoors and on district provided transportation. The District’s plans otherwise calls for near normal operations regarding classroom instruction, co-curricular activities, and transportation. Unless mandated by the State, a remote option will only be available if schools are closed due to COVID-19 or if students are required to quarantine. Last week, school districts across New York State received updated guidance from the State Education Department. That guidance essentially mirrored the CDC’s guidance fro schools. BMUFSD subsequently reconvened a district opening committee to finalize a return to school on September 9th. The finalized plan will be provided to families on Friday. Given the ongoing dynamics of the pandemic, the District’s plan includes the ability to at any time make necessary adjustments and additions to COVID-19 safety policies and procedures as may be recommended by health experts.”
How will the district encourage vaccinations for eligible students and staff?
“At this time, vaccination rates for Briarcliff faculty and staff exceed the goals set by regional and national health experts as do vaccination rates for students ages 12 through 17. This summer and throughout the fall, we will continue to amplify federal, state, and regional awareness of prudent COVID-19 health and safety precautions and strongly encourage those eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
How are the new recommendations from the CDC requiring indoor mask wear impacting back to school decision making?
“Again, the new data around the highly contagious SARS-CoV-2 strain or the “Delta Virus” is a reason for concern and in addition to vaccination, wearing masks while indoors is the best way to help mitigate these concerns. We are putting final touches on a plan to safely open each of our schools for full in-person instruction on Thursday, September 9th. Following NYSED recommendations and CDC COVID-19 Guidelines for Schools, all students and staff will be required to wear masks while indoors. The current plan does not require students to be masked outdoors. Absent further guidance, the District will also follow basic hygiene, social distancing, and contact tracing protocols.”
As you envision a return to sports/extracurricular activities come fall, what special precautions will be in place? What will be back to normal?
“Unless the regional heath metrics deteriorate appreciably, we envision little in the way of further restrictions on sports and extracurricular activities beyond daily screenings and common-sense safety precautions such as distancing, layered hygiene and cleaning measures. Sports schedules and championship play look to be back on track. Plans currently call for a full school day followed by co-curricular activities and sports. Once again, as circumstances dictate, additional health and safety measures may be required of students engaged in after-school activities and sports.”
Describe your experience thus far within the Briarcliff Manor district and community.
“The support the District has received from the Briarcliff school community has been extraordinary. Patient, and public health conscious, the collective effort of our faculty, staff, students, and parents enabled our schools to open on time and for the District to remain open for in-person K-12 learning for the entirety of the 2020-21 school year. United behind the interests of kids and families, we successfully navigated the challenges that the pandemic placed before us. This year, we are called to prioritize physical health and safety for all who enter our schools wile elevating the social and emotional needs of our students. I’m confident that we will answer the call once again.”
*Editor’s Note: The comments in the print version of this article were gathered and updated to the best of the author’s and editor’s ability through early to mid August for optimal accuracy inside our back-to-school print editions and to help us define a ‘New Beginnings’ theme. We appreciate Dr. Kaishian’s time and openness to the Inside Press to achieve that goal, and for the updates today. We also recognize that the news each day brings new revelations and of course impacts our school district’s decision making, sometimes profoundly. Please follow announcements from your individual school district to keep up with policies for vaccinations and mask wear and other Covid-safety protocol. Wishing families everywhere a safe, healthy and productive back to school experience!