The Pelham Board of Education unanimously approved two resolutions Wednesday requiring all district staff and athletes playing high risk sports to provide proof of vaccination or participate in weekly Covid-19 testing.
The district will continue the voluntary surveillance testing program that was introduced last school year and is available to staff and students, said Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Champ. The district is in the process of working with the the Westchester Health Department to find a partner. Tests this year will include PCR saliva tests, which can be administered at school or at home.
Board President Jessica DeDomenico said the start of the school year was thought by many to be the “light at the end of the tunnel,” but the spread of the Covid-19 Delta variant has paused the return to normalcy.
“We are committed to prioritizing the highest quality of full-time, in-person education possible for all Pelham students, supporting their physical and emotional health, while balancing the safety needs of students and staff while we continue to work with the context of the pandemic,” DeDomenico said.
During the public comment period, a member of the community asked the board three questions on plans for students with learning disabilities.
None of the board members or administrators replied to the queries.
The resident then asked what would to happen if the Delta variant became more aggressive and schools have to close.
Champ did reply to that question: “Most schools at this point, their plan is continue to be open unless the (health department) or state directs us to close or shift to hybrid. We’ve done both before so we could if needed, but we’re hoping we don’t get to that point.”
The district hopes to test 20% of the schools’ population on a weekly basis, Champ said in her overview comments. Students need parental consent forms in order to be tested, which will be emailed to families along with an optional survey regarding vaccination status. According to Champ, 70.3% of Pelham is fully vaccinated, and 88% of staff members have received the shot.
The district is unable to require that all students get vaccinated, but will continue to implement cleaning and sanitizing practices, air filtration and social distancing when possible. Masks are mandatory indoors but not required outdoors, and students will be distanced three-feet apart when possible in classrooms. The individual plastic barriers will not return after their use was halted in the spring.
“Our hope is to discontinue the daily screener this year,” said Champ, referring to the daily health form students must complete. However, she said that is pending further guidance, and the screener serves as a reminder to families to not send children to school when they are sick.
Parents of students who must stay home for medical reasons may talk with their building principal about receiving remote tutoring, but there will be no virtual learning option. The district hopes to provide a more “normal approach to grades and assessments,” said Champ. “It’s not going to be completely back to normal at this point.”
On Tuesday, two parent meetings will be held at 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. with more details said to be forthcoming. Champ also said the district is hoping to get the full student population tested for Covid-19 within the first week of school, either with the testing program at school or families testing separately and providing the district with results.
The board adopted its goals for the school year, including “prioritizing the highest quality of full-time, in-person education possible.” With the goals, the board said it is focused on “supporting the physical and emotional health” of students while “balancing the safety of students and staff” during the pandemic, working to “renew a student-centered high-achieving academic culture” by strengthening connections and support between students and staff, and “increasing avenues of communication” in the Pelham community.
Preseason for fall high school sports has started, with 509 students attending tryouts. All fall sports are running this year, with modified sports starting at the middle school on Sept. 13. The district shifted to Final Forms, an athletic forms system introduced by Athletic Director Christian Hodge, who started in the district a year ago. The district’s athletics webpage is also being more frequently updated, providing more accurate locations and times of practices and games for families.
According to Steven Garcia, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction and personnel, 27 new staff members have joined the district this year, with 19 coming on board this summer. Those hired include two psychologists, four interventionists and building substitutes at each school. The position of Covid coordinator is still open, with a medical background and flexible hours required. According to Champ, currently district enrollment is 2,782 students. There are three classes of Kindergarten at Hutchinson, Prospect Hill and Siwanoy, and two classes at Colonial.
Before the open portion of the regular meeting began, the board went it into executive session—as it almost always does. One of the purposes of the session was “for discussions with our attorney,” said Board Vice President Sue Bratone Childs. That is not one of the purposes for which a board can meet behind closed doors under the state Open Meetings Law.
The Pelham Examiner has requested comment from DeDomenico and spokesperson Alex Wolff.