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Superintendent Emails and Updates - November 2020
November 20, 2020
Dear Syosset Community,
Thank you to everyone who joined us virtually Wednesday night for a frank “family conversation” about the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, the escalating challenges, and the opportunities we have as a community to make choices that keep schools open for our children. I appreciate that so many community members took the time to join us. I’d also like to thank our District physician, Dr. Marino, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Theresa Curry, and our District Lead Nurse, Ms. Gonzalez, for providing expert guidance on the contact tracing process and other helpful information.
During the meeting, we discussed our early success with the health and safety protocols in place in our buildings. Thankfully, of the 17 confirmed positive cases we’ve had in our learning community that are more than 14-days old, we have not identified any transmission occurring within the school environment. Unfortunately, transmission is occurring outside the schools as a result of activity such as team sports, travel and social gatherings. I know we all long for a sense of normalcy for our kids, but we are now at a turning point and the choices we make next will literally determine our future.
To follow is a quick recap of the information we shared with the community Wednesday evening. I do encourage everyone to view the recording of the meeting. We packed in a lot of new information and answered questions we’ve received from the community, and I’m sure you’ll learn something new.
NYS Micro-Cluster Strategy
Our ability to safely continue in-person learning is directly dependent on keeping the positivity rate low among students and staff. During our family conversation, we reviewed the State’s micro-cluster strategy, which uses data to pinpoint and then target epicenters of viral outbreaks in a defined geographic area.
- Nassau County has had several metrics that appear above the Yellow Zone limits.
- If a school is in an area deemed a Yellow Zone, it must test 20% of students and staff every 2 weeks in order to stay open.
- If a school is in an Orange or Red zone, it must close and cannot reopen until 100% of students and staff are tested.
Areas elsewhere that have been designated as hotspots have been able to turn it around. So I know we can too, and if we intervene before the state does, we can control our own destiny. (Our metrics can be found here)
Mount Sinai South Nassau COVID-19 Satellite Test Location
We talked in further detail about the plan for Mt. Sinai South Nassau to offer drive-up COVID-19 rapid testing to members of the Syosset learning community (staff, students and their immediate family members). I’ve heard from many of you that you’ve experienced difficulties getting an appointment for a test and long wait times, so my hope is that this satellite location will be a convenience. In addition, the rapid test being offered is much more accurate than many on the market, which will increase confidence in the results. Tests will be administered by a nurse under the direction of Mt. Sinai South Nassau and will take place in a drive-up format alongside a tent outside Syosset High School.
- Students will not be tested without parental consent.
- The cost of the test will be underwritten by family health insurance, not the District.
- Health data will be collected and maintained by Mt. Sinai, not the District.
- The site will not operate as an urgent care facility. Anyone experiencing fever or serious symptoms should immediately seek medical attention.
More information will be coming out about how to take advantage of this center in the coming days.
The CDC has released guidance discouraging Thanksgiving travel and offering suggestions for how to celebrate the holiday more safely, and New York State has changed its out-of-state travel restrictions: Anyone traveling to a non-contiguous state must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in NY. Travelers may be able to shorten this quarantine, provided they follow these procedures:
- Travelers must take a COVID test within three days of departure for NY, and again on the 4th day of their quarantine in NY.
- If both tests come back negative, the traveler may exit quarantine upon receipt of the second negative diagnostic test.
- Travelers who do not get tested will be required to quarantine for 14 days.
- Those testing positive will be issued isolation orders.
Contact Tracing and Isolation/Quarantine
During the meeting we also reviewed the contact tracing process in detail, as well as the quarantine and isolation requirements and timelines. A recording of our family conversation is available on our District website, and the presentation is posted in the Reopening section of the website.
What do ...
Avery Aaronson, Emma Birnbaum, Madison Birnbaum, Victoria Costa, Benji Falkove, Harris Goldstein, Raia Honig, Sally Jamieson, Molly Lebolt, Katelyn Lee, Brody Levine, Sammy Schoenfeld, Lizzy Shyer, Cooper Steinberger, Evan Strominger, Paige Weinstein, and Claire Wilensky
… all have in common? They are all team captains raising funds and awareness for the Gold Ribbon Riders, a non-profit organization that partners with Cycle for Survival to end rare cancers by funding pediatric cancer research.
Recruited and led by SHS students Max Falkove, Mollie Falkove and Aaron Hafkin who created The Gold Ribbon Riders Teen Initiative, the team captains recruited over 179 participants! These passionate and enthusiastic students have raised an astounding amount, over $105,000 already, and they are still going strong! The friendly competition to raise funds will continue until January 5th, and I encourage anyone interested to support the efforts of these amazing students. I’d like to commend Max, Mollie and Aaron, and all the team captains.
Some of the smartest scientists in the world are working on defeating this disease. Perhaps we can’t directly help invent a vaccine, but what we CAN do is buy them time. I truly believe that if we return to a more cautious posture, we can slow or even stop our rate of growth. Those short-term sacrifices can preserve our in-person education, our own health, and speed the resumption of the life we long to return to.
I know this is a daunting challenge, and we have been asked to make significant sacrifices for a long period of time. But, as our insightful students reminded us during our family conversation, this is only for now, and as my “Mr. Rogers” character observed, “the things I thought were keeping us apart are actually what’s allowing us to stay together.” We will overcome this and return to our normal lives. What I’ve learned in my 6+ years in Syosset is that this community can accomplish anything when we work together.
I sincerely wish you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving. My hope is that you connect with family and friends in a safe manner, reflect on all there is to be grateful for, and find time to relax and recharge.
Stay positive. Stay Strong. We got this. #syostrong
P.S. I hope those who joined us live on Wednesday enjoyed the surprise performance of Mr. & Dr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. We are currently trying to obtain licenses to include that video with the recording of the presentation posted online. While we secured permission from the copyright holders for the one-time broadcast, we currently may not host the video on our website.
November 13, 2020
It’s been a busy week here in the District. Students learned about the sacrifices veterans have made for our country and honored them for their service, food drives are taking place to benefit local food pantries, and today we cut the ribbon to officially inaugurate the new SHS Fitness Center, already being used as physical education instructional space and for athletes’ off-season training (in a limited capacity to allow for social distancing). Unfortunately, we also had some additional positive cases of COVID identified, more than we’ve had any week prior.
I have some good news reflections to share regarding our fight against the pandemic, but we need to have a “family conversation” about some of the challenges I’m observing as well.
Although we have had 23 cases of COVID among students or staff this fall, of the 14 cases that are more than 2 weeks old, everyone has recovered, and no transmission through the school environment was subsequently identified. (Our thoughts are with the current 9 individuals who have more recently tested positive, hoping that their cases are mild and they too resolve quickly.)
While these early observations illustrate that we have yet to identify any transmission occurring via the school environment, they are by no means a reason to let down our guard, or an invitation to begin taking risks. Six new cases have appeared in Syosset schools in the last week alone, and numbers in our community are starting to rise quickly. I was proud of how your caution helped Syosset keep its positivity rate below Nassau County as a whole, but this trend has begun to reverse in the last few weeks.
Obviously, our ability to safely continue in-person learning is directly dependent on keeping the positivity rate low among students and staff, in turn by keeping the rate low in the community. Syosset has the ability to turn this around, but it will take focused effort from all of us.
I’d like to invite the community to join me virtually, along with Dr. Theresa Curry, the administrator taking the lead in the contact tracing investigations, the District physician, and the District’s lead nurse on Wednesday, November 18th at 7 p.m. We’ll discuss the state of the pandemic specific to our community, answer some questions we’ve received, and share important information regarding protocols for positive cases in our community. A link will be posted on the District website homepage to view the meeting. I hope you’ll join us for this important conversation, and we’ll even have a little treat for you at the end.
Until then, stay #SyoStrong by making good choices and being careful.
November 6, 2020
Dear Syosset Community,
In what seems like a blink of the eye, we have made it to November and the third month of this most unique school year. In a month when we often reflect on what we are thankful for, I’d like you to know how grateful I am to be part of this special community and for everyone who is doing their part to keep one another safe.
I’m grateful that the reopening plans we created have held up under some significant recent strains, but I’m reminded of the words of Winston Churchill: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” The experts have warned that the next few months will be more challenging than the last. We have been watching closely as case counts in Nassau have started to rise. Challenges ahead are inevitable, but their outcome is not. We are determined to work as hard as we can to avoid a pause in in-person instruction. Our actions can directly mitigate the severity and breadth of any local outbreak if we can just hang on and hang tough.
Here are a few important updates from the District:
January Regents Examinations: Earlier this week, the NYS Education Department announced that the NYS High School Regents Examinations scheduled to take place in January have been cancelled due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. There has currently been no decision made regarding the June and August 2021 examinations nor regarding the spring Math and English tests in 3rd through 8th grade. This FAQ document from the State provides additional details.
Nassau County Reassessment: The Nassau County Legislature recently voted to certify the 2020-21 tax roll, the first to be calculated under the new countywide reassessment. The newly implemented reassessment plan changed several factors in how homeowner’s taxes are calculated. This new method of assessment may have redistributed the amount of school tax allocated among properties, however, the total school district levy for this year has not changed since the budget was approved in the spring. The District’s tax levy increase this year was 1.7% over the prior year, which is well below the allowable tax cap of 3.23%. More information is available on the county’s website and the Nassau County Department of Assessment can be reached at 516-571-1500.
Veteran’s Day: As a reminder, the District will be closed in observance of Veteran’s Day on Wednesday, November 11 as we pause to honor the men and women who have so bravely and selflessly served our country. Earlier this year, the school board and I had the honor of recognizing one of those veterans, Gus Scutari, when he passed just after his 99th birthday. To all the veterans in our community and beyond, you have my gratitude, respect, and hope that you are rewarded with the same long, rich life as Gus.
- South Woods Middle School 6th grade student Anouska Jhaveri recently donated $972 from her fundraising efforts to support the education of underprivileged girls in India. Anoushka started her own small business to raise funds by creating and selling bracelets. She is continuing to contribute her proceeds to the non-profit organization Nanhi Kali to help provide opportunities to girls in need.
So how do we “hang on and hang tough”? Please remember to remain vigilant in safeguarding the health of our community. Avoid large gatherings, wear a mask, and maintain social distance from those outside your household. Remember, there are lots of ways to stay close while keeping our distance.
I’d also recommend getting outside and soaking up some vitamin D during this beautiful September-like weather, which I hope to do myself!
Tom Rogers, Superintendent
Hang on. Hang tough. Stay Strong. #syostrong