Perhaps the biggest decision Westchester County school districts have faced in recent weeks is how to safely reopen.
A government task force is in place to help schools develop their plans providing support around the areas of public health, emergency preparedness and response. This working group will assist in the purchase of personal protective equipment, suggest vendors for Plexiglas dividers and signage, assist with contact tracing and develop a standardized frequently-asked-questions document for districts.
“No one knows what we will be up against when our school districts start to reopen again," said Westchester County Executive George Latimer. "If we do see plans for a return in September, administrators will have a limited amount of time to make crucial decisions about how to provide a quality education for our students while maintaining their health and safety, which will always be our top priority,"
The New York State Department of Health and Board of Regents released guidelines on July 16 requiring all school districts to develop a reopening plan, to be reviewed and approved by the state.
Specific action steps taken by the tasks force include creating a survey for superintendents to identify the type of PPE required for safe reopening and assisting in procuring the equipment; hosting webinars about proper school cleaning, food provisions for kitchen staff, protocols for contact tracing and attaining PPE gear; and designating points of contact at the Westchester County Department of Health to assist with health care concerns as they arise.
Deputy Commissioner of the Westchester County Department of Community Mental Health Joseph Glazer has been named the leader of the working group. Members are White Plains School Superintendent Joe Ricca, Susan Spear and Aviva Meyer of the County Executive’s Office, Dr. Dial Hewlett, Peter DeLucia and Marina Yoegel of the Health Department and Hernane DeAlmeida from the Department of Public Works.
The role of Westchester’s School Reopening Workgroup is to assist the county’s school districts in preparing their reopening plans, and helping them to effectuate those plans, Glazer explained.
The task force has representatives from the county's Departments of Health and Public Works assisting with areas of operation, including the PPE procurement and use, COVID testing, exposure and contact tracing, facilities preparation and safety and safe food preparation and distribution for kitchen and cafeteria staff, he added.
"We are working directly with school superintendents and appropriate staff to help meet their needs," Glazer said.
Perhaps the greatest challenge, Glazer offered is "the short timeframe in place to complete and submit plans to the state."
"It is challenging us to be creative and collaborative in new ways. A full week in, I can say that we are all working together in a truly cohesive fashion."
"We are grateful for this continued partnership as we all work to continue to support our children and community members throughout Westchester. As we look to the future, with a hopeful eye to welcoming our children and staff members back into our classrooms, we know that this partnership will remain critical in providing for the health and safety of our communities," said Ricca, White Plains superintendent and member of the working group. "It remains an honor to work alongside so many committed professionals in support of our children. Together, we will move through these challenges successfully and we will be stronger for the shared effort."
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