As New York state plans for the upcoming academic year, Catholic schools in the archdiocese are preparing for a full, in-person opening this fall with no remote or hybrid learning.
On Aug. 12, the superintendent of schools for the archdiocese released “Catholic Schools Open: We Continue to Soar,” a guide which details the archdiocese’s plan to ensure the maximum health, safety and care for children and staff in September.
“We are excited for all of our schools to be open five days a week for in-person instruction for all students, ensuring social distancing can safely be maintained in our buildings under the direct supervision of a teacher,” said Michael J. Deegan, superintendent of schools.
“Our number one focus continues to be offering an excellent academic program in a safe and nurturing environment.”
Before- and after-school care for children will also be provided.
He shared his gratitude for the Catholic Schools Reopening Advisory Council “for their work in updating the manual and to the principals and teachers who will implement it so we may maintain the same bubble of protection for our students and staff that we created over 18 months ago.”
The updated manual, distributed to parents, principals, school staff and faculty, is based on an international and national review of standards and guidelines, and was created by the Catholic Schools Reopening Advisory Council, in coordination with the Health and Safety Task Force of the Office of the Superintendent of Schools.
The manual outlines how schools will operate in the fall, including face covering guidelines, social distancing, facility requirements, daily protocols and procedures, sanitizing and disinfecting measures, and resources for families.
Students will be grouped into consistent pods each day, which reduces the number of students potentially exposed to someone infected with Covid-19. The students will remain together throughout the day in the same classroom or other designated areas of the building as much as possible, and teachers will change locations instead of students.
Students will eat breakfast in the classroom, and all special subjects—art, music, physical education, language, computers—will be taught in the classroom.
The protocols will include socially distant classrooms with hand sanitizer stations, mandatory temperature checks, a daily questionnaire for parents and masks for anyone who will enter the building.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and New York state, publish additional regulations, recommendations and guidance, the schools will adapt their plans to ensure compliance with federal, state and local officials.
The archdiocese has also updated its video for school staff and families to watch so they may see firsthand how schools will be operating in the fall. The video can be found at youtube.com/watch?v=1CoABrSWqow.
In a recent interview with CNY, Deegan explained that the manual comprises two phases. Phase I, he said, will be observed for an undetermined amount of time. “There are obviously a greater level of restrictions in Phase I, and then they loosen up as the school year goes on as the variant changes, etc.”
All children and adults, “vaccinated or not,” will be required to wear masks during Phase I, he said.
“While there has been a lot of infection rates in many of our communities and the spread of Covid has been pretty significant, last year we had not one single case of a positive infection spread in the school building,” the superintendent said.
“We’re relying on those past strategies and protocols,” Deegan said, “we’re going to continue them with the hopes, God willing, we can relax them, loosen up on them, as quickly as possible.”
“We want to create this in the least restrictive environment but until the variants are better under control and we can ensure that the children are going to be safe, we’re just going to be really strict when we reopen in September,” he said.
Regarding vaccinations, Deegan said, “The Holy Father has made it clear it is a moral imperative that all eligible people get vaccinated. Cardinal Dolan similarly supports that all eligible children and adults, 12 years and up, should get vaccinated.
“However, it is the position of the Office of the Superintendent, at this time,” Deegan said, “we are not going to be mandating vaccinations for the students or for the adults in the schools.”
He did not anticipate that position would change “under any circumstances unless we are told or compelled to do it by the government.”
In announcing the reopening plan, the superintendent’s office said Catholic schools in the archdiocese “remain committed to providing a first-rate education” as this year they will collaborate with global brands such as the Discovery Channel and Google “to enhance their stellar programs in science, technology, robotics, engineering, math and the arts.”
Catholic schools in the archdiocese serve nearly 55,000 students from pre-k through 12th grade across 172 schools in 10 counties.
Information: catholicschoolsny.org/opening2021 or facebook.com/CatholicSchoolsArchdioceseNewYork.