Cites many reasons Pelham schools should move now to full-time learning in person

To the editor:

More than 500 Pelham parents want their children to return to full-time, in-person learning as soon as possible. In our parent group dedicated to advocating for our children’s right to go into school full-time, there are doctors, scientists, lawyers, mental health professionals, teachers, local business owners, professionals and many other parents who want this to happen.

Full-time, in-person (FTIP) learning can be done safely now with will and ingenuity. Other districts and private schools have been open for FTIP instruction for many students and plan to bring more students back starting next month. This idea is pro-science, as it is well-supported by experts in both public health and medicine.

Every day that goes by, that we do not offer FTIP instruction, our children are losing out on learning, are having an inequitable learning experience at home, and their general well-being is negatively impacted. We are thankful that some children continue to thrive under the hybrid model but ask that you please not dismiss the children who are crying in front of their screens 2.5 days a week or more, or do not have a structured learning pod for remote days, or do not have a parent who can sit with them to keep them focused, or are now in psychotherapy because of the continued forced isolation from their friends and teachers.

We have spoken to many people over the past few weeks and have listened to the challenges to providing FTIP learning. These arguments against FTIP instruction, while understandably concern-based and emotion-based, are neither fact-based or science-based. We review the main ones here:

Challenge to FTIP learning: “Teachers will get sick and die if we return to FTIP learning.”

Information that supports FTIP learning:

  • We are nearing 100% of Pelham teachers being fully vaccinated.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that teacher vaccinations are not required for schools to reopen.
  • The CDC states nearly all of the cases of teachers getting Covid-19 are not from student-to-teacher transmission.
  • The CDC states that transmission in schools with mitigation is extremely low, particularly in elementary schools.

Challenge to FTIP learning: “FTIP learning is not safe because I have an at-risk family member.”

Information that supports FTIP learning:

  • FTIP instruction can be done safely, without raising the risk of in-school transmission.
  • Masks, barriers, daily symptom checks, distancing to the extent possible and surveillance testing all work together to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in schools.
  • A virtual option can remain available for those who are aiming for 0% risk from Covid-19 in schools.

Challenge to FTIP learning: “FTIP is not safe because there is so much spread in the community.”

Information that supports FTIP learning:

  • The CDC says K-12 should be open for full-time instruction at moderate to low transmission rates in the community. (less than 8% positive case rate). Westchester County is at less than 5% now, which is defined as low transmission.
  • According to a recent call between the New York State Department of Health and members of the state Assembly (including Assemblywoman Amy Paulin), the health department said that community-infection levels will not be established as suggested by the CDC.
  • Even in New York State-designated yellow or orange zones (which Pelham is not or has never been), schools can remain open with surveillance testing in place.

Challenge to FTIP learning: “There are more contagious variants coming.”

Information that supports FTIP learning:

  • Mitigation, like we do in school, still works against these variants.
  • Vaccines still do offer protection from getting seriously ill from these variants.

Challenge to FTIP learning: “We don’t know the long-term impact of Covid infection on children.”

Information that supports FTIP Learning:

  • Schools have not been shown to be a major factor in the spread of Covid-19.
  • Multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) continues to be a very rare complication of Covid-19 in children.

Challenge to FTIP learning: “A return to FTIP learning will increase school closures due to quarantine.”

Information that supports FTIP learning:

  • Quarantine requirements should be revisited as vaccinated teachers and staff no longer need to quarantine after exposure.
  • Teachers and staff quarantines, not spread within the schools, appears to be a main driver of school closures due to quarantine.

Challenge to FTIP learning: “We don’t have six-foot distancing available in our classrooms.”

Information that supports FTIP Learning:

  • New York State guidance is six-feet or barriers and other mitigation steps like masks and cleaning.
  • There is compelling evidence that says three feet of distancing is sufficient.
  • Making plans to have our children back in school daily at six feet or three feet with additional required mitigation is compliant with state guidelines.

Challenge to FTIP learning: “The state guidance is not clear enough to open schools for full-time in person instruction.”

Information that supports FTIP learning:

  • In that same discussion between Paulin and the state health department this past Monday, it was confirmed that:
    • The state is not updating its reopening guidance.
    • Individual districts are to determine their reopening plans and the plans do not require submission to the state.
    • When asked about the six-foot question, representatives from the state indicated that their current guidance, which is six feet or barriers and other mitigation steps like masks and cleaning, should be flexible enough for any school district to work within.

The Pelham school district is currently capable of opening schools for full-time, in-person instruction now. With mask use, our daily symptom screener, barriers and distancing to the extent possible (including maximizing space available and acquiring additional temporary space if necessary) and surveillance testing, we already have most of the tools in hand.

We encourage you to support the Pelham Board of Education and Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ in providing the path forward for returning to school for full-time, in-person instruction as soon as possible.

Jackie De Angelis

40 Iden Ave.