An open letter from a concerned parent - and public health professional - regarding the new school year

| 09 Aug 2021 | 12:34

    To the Superintendent and Board of Education of the Monroe-Woodbury School District, the Principal and Vice-Principal of Central Valley Elementary School, the Commissioner of Health for Orange County, NY and the Orange County Executive, the Orange County Legislature:

    Thank you for your continued support following the unexpected and rapid transition to remote schooling in March 2020, and the decision to offer remote and hybrid schooling in the 2020-2021 school year. We appreciate everything that went into making that transition successful, and the ongoing effort to create policies that enable a safe return to school in the Fall of 2021.

    I am writing to you today, not only as a concerned parent of an elementary school student, but also as a public health professional working in global health. I have experienced, first-hand, the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic on a global scale. I work at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Over the summer, the Columbia University Irving Medical Center has taken a measured approach to ensuring that employees can return to work in a safe manner. This includes a phased return to work, accompanied by regular testing and daily self-reporting by all employees, social distancing, masking mandates, and reporting of vaccination status.

    At this time, only 50% of non-patient-facing employees have returned to work on campus.

    As beneficial as in-person schooling is for all staff, teachers and especially students, I urge you to continue making accommodations for families who wish to continue with remote learning for their children during the 2021-2022 school year. Remote learning protects everyone within the school system. It allows families with concerns about sending their children to school to still be engaged in public education, while simultaneously offering those who choose to send their children to school the added space for social distancing, and the additional educational services they seek.

    The request to continue remote learning stems from the fact that very little is still known about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on children, including what the predetermining factors are that make children susceptible to “long-COVID” or the complications from multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). This is compounded by the lack of availability of pediatric vaccines for children under the age of 12.

    My wife and I plan that after my child is fully vaccinated she will safely return to the classroom.

    Across the United States, numbers are tallied daily for vaccination rates, as well as new COVID infections. We all read them and make decisions on going about our daily lives. However, the statistics for the communities that feed into the Monroe-Woodbury School District have not received thorough examination. The rates for completed vaccination series in the communities that feed into our school district is very low:

    · Monroe (10950) - 28.1%

    · Highland Mills (10930) - 53.3%

    · Harriman (10926) - 54.1%

    · Central Valley (10917) - 66.1%

    A majority of students in our school district come from Monroe, and although some adults within their households may be vaccinated, the community at large remains unvaccinated and unmasked. Community spread of COVID-19 leads to increased infection rates within the schools as well. Monroe currently has the second largest outbreak of COVID-19 within Orange County.

    The number of children contracting COVID-19 has increased five-fold since the end of June, with a substantial 84% jump in the last week alone, accordingly to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which comes as numerous states report upticks in child hospitalization amid the ongoing surge of the “Delta variant.” This uptick in combination with the above information leads me to implore the Monroe-Woodbury School Board to strongly consider remote learning for those who opt for it, and full preparation for another year of hybrid learning at least for Elementary students.


    Hormazd N. Sethna, MPH, MA

    Central Valley