Knocking on wood, the Katonah-Lewisboro School District last week marked a month without suffering a coronavirus shutdown, a rare distinction among area schools.
“So far, we’ve been really fortunate and we hope to keep it that way for as long as possible,” Superintendent Andrew Selesnick told the school board at its Oct. 8 meeting.
Selesnick regularly remarks on the school community’s cooperation with pandemic protocols—from spring lockdown through last month’s fingers-crossed reopening. He reported last week a strict adherence to safety measures, telling board members that “every single person I saw was following the rules: wearing their masks, walking appropriately from one class to the next. These things are and continue to be important.”
As schools in northern Westchester reopened their doors last month, safety was on everyone’s mind. Four weeks into the new academic year, however, Katonah-Lewisboro is one of the few school districts untouched by the potentially lethal coronavirus.
Some nearby districts—Somers, Yorktown and Lakeland among them—have suffered a coronavirus outbreak and been forced to close “for a day, a couple of days, in some cases a week or two weeks when they have positive cases,” Selesnick said.
“I think we all have to anticipate that that’s likely to continue,” he said later in the meeting. “Knock on wood it hasn’t happened to us yet, but it certainly could at any time.”
The district’s 3,000 students, divided into A and B groupings, returned to school buildings Sept. 10, their first time in classrooms since March. Under a hybrid education model dictated by COVID-19 precautions, most students spend two days on campus and three at home. Most kindergartners and first-graders are in school four days, home for one. All other students have chosen to learn remotely all five days.
Already, some parents are looking to change those choices, which they made to start the school year. Some 90 requests to reverse opening-day venue decisions had come in by the Oct. 6 deadline for making a move next month, the superintendent said.
“The requests are pretty evenly divided,” he noted, “going in both directions, with some parents wanting their children to stay home, others wanting them to come back to school.”
Selesnick called the split “totally understandable,” attributing it to “the very different perspectives that we bring.”
“Obviously, for us, we would love to have all of our students back [in their accustomed classrooms],” he said. “We do believe that this is the best place for them to be. But we have to be mindful of safety and all the regulations and guidance.”
The school board’s student representative, John Jay High School senior Sawyer Reed, said students had embraced the safety protocols.
“Social distancing and mask wearing are the new norms,” he told the board.
“Things are different from what they used to be,” Reed said, but the “adjustments have been made with the intent of keeping school as safe as possible.”
Meanwhile, the superintendent said, KLSD plans “to see if we have any more space available to accommodate other groups of students.”
Despite the demands of social distancing, Selesnick said he was confident that by maintaining separate days on campus for A and B cohorts, school facilities had enough room even if everyone opted into the hybrid-learning model.
Fall sports roll
At their Sept. 24 meeting, school board trustees had questioned the wisdom of John Jay’s athletes traveling to or hosting other school districts that might be more flexible in their virus safeguards. KLSD, for example, requires players to wear masks while competing but state guidelines don’t.
Athletic director Christian McCarthy assured the board last week that “all the schools that we’ll be playing are falling under the same guidelines that we’ll put in place.” They require, among other things, that any player who needs a “mask break” must leave the game for as long as the covering is off.
Trustee William Rifkin, a medical doctor, warned at the earlier meeting of potential “life and death” consequences if strict COVID safety standards were not enforced. He seemed satisfied last week with McCarthy’s statement, saying, “That sounds very reasonable and the right thing to do.”
Trustee Rory Burke said he had been “really impressed” with the way student-athletes followed safety protocols. But he renewed his appeal to field JV as well as varsity teams.
While cancellation of the fall JV program seemed a “fait accompli,” he said, “I hope as we contemplate winter sports and spring sports, that we do reconsider our position.”
“We recognize the joy that sports can bring for students as well as the physical and mental health it contributes to their lives,” Selesnick said.
The administration, he said, had presented the school board with “a recommendation that we think strikes a balance between going full steam ahead and exercising caution, given the difficult times that we are in.”
Dropping JV sports was part of that streamlining.
When John Jay teams do take the field this fall, they will be the newly christened “Wolves,” with iconography unveiled last week. The school retired its venerable “Indians” identity in a controversial move that reverberated throughout the last academic year.