main content starts hereSuperintendent Update: Sept. 11

| September 11, 2020

Dear Parents, Faculty and Staff,

First, let me acknowledge the anniversary of one of America’s darkest days – the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Nineteen years later, our thoughts remain with the victims and their families. We will never forget.

Thank you for the monumental efforts that you have all put into ensuring a successful reopening. I am very disappointed that our collective efforts were abruptly overturned; however, this is a temporary setback only. We will once again have a chance to put all of your hard work planning into action when we return to in-person/hybrid/remote learning.

Although I am awaiting clearance from the Schenectady Department of Health, I have set a target date for a return to in-person learning for this coming Friday, September 18th. We have an opportunity to model how resilience can look at Mohonasen.

If you’ve engaged in any type of media in the last 24 hours, you know that the eyes of the Capital Region and NYS are upon us. I am eager to show that our plans are solid and that we can safely return to in-person learning for our students. They deserve it and we can do it. As is the case with any crisis situation, transparent and honest communication is vital, and I remain committed to ensuring parents, faculty, staff and students know and understand what happened yesterday and why we can overcome it.

I’ve been fielding hundreds of questions and realize that there are some misperceptions and rumors out in the community. I would like to provide additional details and a timeline of events so that our community understands how even the best of plans can shift unexpectedly. Here are the details.

  • There have been a number of positive COVID cases at Mohonasen since we closed in March. We have consistently followed the NYSDOE/CDC/NYSDOH/Schenectady County DOH guidelines whenever a positive case is identified. As clearly outlined in our Reopening Plan, in such cases we fully cooperate with the Schenectady DOH as they perform contact tracing and then we follow their instructions. This most often results in a number of people being quarantined, but as outlined in our Reopening Plan, it has the potential to result in more significant responses, up to and including closing school or shifting to all-remote instruction. Until yesterday, we have not had any of the more significant reactions described in our plan.
  • We had our first professional development day on September 3rd, where teachers, staff and administrators came into the district and practiced the safety precautions we had developed. These included (and still include) social distancing, use of face coverings, a daily health attestation and cleaning/disinfecting.
  • During the day on September 3rd, the collective bargaining units ( “unions” ) also scheduled back to school meetings. The larger groups met virtually; however, the Mohonasen Administrators Association decided to meet in the High School Conference Room. This is a double classroom sized room so is quite large (30-feet x 60-feet), easily allowing for full social distancing for a group of 14 individuals. The administrators had a working lunch during this meeting, which necessitated the removal of their face coverings during the meal. Unbeknownst to the group, later that evening one of the administrators would go on to develop symptoms of COVID-19. While later research did reveal that one pair of administrators were closer than the full six feet while eating, all other administrators were fully socially distanced with some being 10 and 20 feet or more apart from the administrator who later tested positive for COVID-19.
  • That same evening, September 3rd, the administrator in question became ill and developed a fever. He was tested for COVID early the next morning and reported his positive case to me by 9:00 AM on September 4th. The administrator was immediately quarantined by the Otsego County Department of Health for 14 days. The District believed, as had been the case previously with the Schenectady Department of Health, that full contact tracing was being conducted.
  • In the late afternoon of Wednesday, September 9th, the quarantined administrator called me and indicated that he did not have full confidence in the contact tracing initiated by Otsego County DOH. He felt this way because he hadn’t been asked as many questions about his interactions at Mohonasen and that none of the other district administrators had been called as part of the contact tracing process. I immediately directed him to contact the Schenectady DOH as this caught my attention. I was used to the Schenectady DOH doing an excellent job in this regard, so I wanted to make doubly sure everything was on track. Also on the afternoon of Wednesday the 9th, the Mohonasen Teachers’ Association President called me and expressed her concern that the contact tracing may not be going on as well as it should. The administrator called Schenectady DOH and it quickly became apparent that they were unaware/uninformed about the September 3rd lunch. Apparently there had been no communication between the two DOHs. Schenectady DOH then immediately sprang into action.
  • My first call from the Schenectady DOH was yesterday, Thursday, September 10th, at 11:30 AM. They had initiated full contact tracing with the administrator and wanted the names, addresses, emails and phone numbers of the administrators who had met on September 3rd, as well as contact information for five teachers who may have had “close contact” with the administrator on or close to September 3rd.
    Over the next two hours the Schenectady DOH continued their investigation and concluded that all administrators present at the lunch meeting on September 3rd must quarantine for 14 days from the day of contact.
  • Having most administrators except myself and the two Assistant Superintendents (we were not at the lunch meeting) under quarantine,would likely cripple our reopening, so I reviewed the details of the situation further with two subsequent DOH officials. I included the Mohonasen Teachers Association President, the MAA President, both Assistant Superintendents and our District Communications Specialist while we made these phone calls to ensure full transparency.
  • I found it hard to understand why, seven days later, all participants in the meeting on September 3rd, none of whom are symptomatic, and all of whom except one were fully socially distanced at the time, would have to quarantine at this point. I pressed the issue until the Schenectady DOH contacted the NYSDOH to confirm their direction to quarantine all the administrators. They explained that even though we were following the rules and the protocols, sometimes as they take all factors involved into consideration, they make a decision that is more conservative. We were also apparently the first reopened school to have this type of a situation, so I believe they acted out of an abundance of caution to keep students, faculty, staff and parents safe.
  • I then questioned if our administrators subsequently tested negative for COVID-19, if they could come back to work and then we could reopen prior to the end of the 14 day quarantine period of September 4th through September 17th. The answer was no. Even if they receive negative COVID tests, they must quarantine for the remainder of the 14 days.
  • At this point we discussed whether or not we could find a way to at least keep our elementary schools open for in person learning. We discussed potentially deploying an Assistant Superintendent to each level to help facilitate the continued reopening. It readily became apparent as we discussed the logistical details that our administrators are vital to the safe and successful reopening of Mohonasen. We were also concerned that as teachers and staff realized that full contact tracing was not yet complete that they might not feel safe to return to work on Friday, which might result in insurmountable staffing issues the next day. With that in mind, we made the decision to shift to all remote instruction and to close the District for one day to allow for the completion of the contact tracing by the Schenectady DOH.

Those are the facts of the situation. Other rumors that don’t align with the account above are inaccurate. In short, we were unexpectedly confronted with the abrupt quarantine of our entire administrative team (other than myself and the Assistant Superintendents), which resulted in our inability to safely continue with our reopening without shifting to remote instruction.

Parents are now asking, “Are our children safe? Were they exposed to COVID-19?” Thus far none of the other administrators, or the teachers who were contact traced, have tested positive for COVID-19. Furthermore, the investigation from the Schenectady DOH has not resulted in a single Mohonasen student being quarantined. So while I am not a physician and cannot give medical advice, I share the facts of the matter with you so that you can judge for yourselves if your children are safe to return to in-person learning at Mohonasen. I believe that they will be in a highly safe environment when they return to school. Our protocols are in place and we are practicing them with fidelity. I believe we have done an excellent job, thanks to the efforts of many, in creating a safe atmosphere for our students, faculty and staff. If I didn’t believe that I would not reopen school.

Our target and goal is to reopen school on Friday, September 18th, but I have not yet received clearance from the Schenectady DOH to do so. I expect I will have that clearance by early next week and I will keep the Mohonasen Family up to date with that information as soon as it becomes available.
Yours in Service,

Shannon Shine
Superintendent

There are further updates which may be of interest below.

Virtual Learning Next Week: Building Principals are communicating separately with parents regarding the specifics for next week. While we have planned for the eventuality of going all virtual, part of that plan was to establish connections with students during our first two weeks of in-person/hybrid/remote learning and to work out any kinks with our use of technology. We are also short about 300 Chromebooks from being completely “one-to-one.” These Chromebooks have been on order for weeks, but have been delayed due to COVID-related supply chain issues. Should you have further questions about next week’s teaching and learning, please refer to the communications from your Building Principal or contact the main office at the appropriate building level.

Fall Athletics Update from Athletic Director David Bertram:

  • NYSPHSAA pushes high risk sports (football, volleyball, competitive cheer) to Spring.
    • “Fall Season II”: will take place between March 1 and end of April.
    • Spring sports will start on April 19th.
    • NYSPHSAA released the “Return to Interscholastic Athletics Guide 2020 2021” late this afternoon. It may be accessed here,
  • Section 2 is a GO!! They just approved moving forward with the fall season. LET’S GOOOO WARRIORS!
  • Fall start date is September 21st for all low- and moderate-risk sports.
    • Registration on Family ID is open.
    • September 15th: Draper (noon) /HS (2:15PM) physicals for athletes
    • September 16th: APP Test for four students only in the HS Gym.
    • September 16th: Coaches CPR update followed by Fall coaches meeting 5PM.
    • Colonial Council is meeting today, September 11th, to discuss schedules and levels of play for each school having Fall sports.

Superintendent’s Note Regarding Athletics: Students who are all virtual are still fully eligible to participate in athletics, although no District-provided transportation for athletics is available at this time. We are also trying to work out how to handle the early end of the student day at the secondary levels and the potential supervision of students until the start of practices. More details will be forthcoming as those plans are developed.

Extracurricular activities:
Teacher advisors for extracurricular activities have been planning for all virtual/remote activities, but not every extracurricular activity lends itself to remote participation. Beginning September 21st, in conjunction with the start of fall athletics (for low and moderate-risk sports only), extracurricular activities may also be planned for in-person sessions so long as the District safety protocols are adhered to (especially in terms of social distancing and face coverings).

This is “breaking news” so it may be a week or two before students hear of the specific plans for various extracurricular activities. Advisors will have the choice to offer remote/virtual only, in-person only, or a combination of the two. Please note that students who are all virtual are still fully eligible to participate in extracurricular activities, although to the extent they are in-person the District is currently unable to provide transportation for this purpose.

Board of Education Meeting: Our next Board of Education meeting is this Monday, September 14th, at 7:00 PM in the Large Group Instruction (LGI) room in the High School. There will be limited socially distanced seating for in-person attendance and face masks are required. In-person seating is capped at the first 35 guests and we ask that you RSVP to the Secretary to the Board of Education, Mrs. Kate Barry (kbarry@mohonasen.org), should you wish to attend in person. Additionally, we will be live streaming the meeting and you will find the link on our website (www.mohonasen.org) by Monday evening.

Transportation: We will continue to provide transportation to all of our P-Tech, private, parochial and special education placements throughout next week. In addition we will be providing transportation to our hybrid High School students to their CTE Programs.

Food Distribution: We have shifted our food distribution plans for next week due to going completely virtual at least through Thursday. All parents should have received a text to sign up for free food pick up on Monday, September 14th. If you missed that text or did not receive it, you may sign up for the Monday food distribution here.