South Orangetown Central School District

March 18, 2020

Dear South Orangetown Families and Staff:

I am writing to update you regarding the District’s plans as we continue to navigate the mandated school closure ordered on March 16 by Governor Cuomo until April 1, 2020 by way of Executive Order 202.4. The District is working diligently to ensure that its distance learning plans for all students are consistent with the New York State Education Department’s expectations and satisfy the requirements of Executive Orders issued by Governor Cuomo.

In accordance with Executive Order 202.2 issued by Governor Cuomo on March 14, NYSED was tasked with “promulgating guidance for districts to ensure access to meals for students in need, critical educational supports for students and distance learning options.” That Executive Order pertains to closures required based upon the declaration of a local state of emergency, and requires that school districts exhaust any snow days and vacation when closed due to a local state of emergency to preserve State Aid.

On the evening of March 16, Governor Cuomo signed Executive Order 202.4, requiring closings of all school districts in New York State for a two-week period, starting today, March 18, and ending on April 1, unless otherwise extended.

While the district is closed in accordance with Executive Order 202.4 starting today, there was also a local state of emergency declared by Rockland County Executive Ed Day the afternoon of March 16 and, to date, Executive Order 202.2 has not been repealed by way of Executive Order 202.4.

In an abundance of caution and to preserve the District’s State Aid, we are cautiously assessing this rapidly evolving situation in consultation with our attorneys to ensure that we are complying with both Executive Orders and Education Law Section 3604.

While the Governor indicated that the 180-day instructional requirement shall be suspended during this mandated, statewide closure and any subsequent extension he directed, Executive Order 202.4 also requires schools to develop a plan for “alternative instructional options, distribution and availability of meals, and child care, with an emphasis on serving children of parents in the health care profession or first responders who are critical to the response effort.” Last night, Interim Commissioner of Education Shannon Tahoe issued preliminary guidance on the framework for a response plan that our school district must submit to the State by 5:00PM tomorrow.

This March 17 guidance is the first document issued by NYSED that helps to outline measures that the State envisions as acceptable for the purposes of continuity of instruction. While this preliminary document is instructive, more robust guidance from NYSED is expected in the coming days.[1] Once those additional materials have been received, we will finalize the roll-out of our distance learning plan.

It is critical to note that under state and federal laws, the district has a requirement to provide equal access for all students and to provide materials and programs that not only educate all of our students, but also allow for equal access to students with disabilities, in accordance with the terms of the students’ IEPs or 504 plans, as applicable. To equitably educate all of our students, we must be thoughtful and intentional in taking the next steps that are necessary to support all learners.

We are also working to ensure that all students have access to instructional resources, from an educational perspective as well as a technological perspective. Our District started planning several weeks ago for these possible contingencies with the understanding that plans would be refined and possibly reshaped as a result of NYSED guidance which was only just issued last night—and with more to come.

In the absence of critical guidance needed to ensure that we are both delivering distance learning that satisfies instructional requirements and safeguards the District’s state aid, March 19-30 have been designated as non-school days for our students and non-work days for our teachers and support services providers.

We anticipate launching distance learning after March 30, unless otherwise directed. In the interim, we encourage you to access the resources and activities that teachers have already planned which will be posted on each of our schools’ homepages tomorrow.

I am proud to lead the South Orangetown Central School District through these challenging times. I will continue to keep the community updated as this situation continues to evolve.

In the meantime, we are developing a frequently-asked questions page on our website. Please submit questions related to the COVID-19 school closures to Answers will be posted and updated as additional information becomes available.

We are focused on making the best decisions for our students with information and guidance that is changing on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Your continued support and patience during these challenging times is greatly appreciated. Together we will persevere.

Very truly yours,

Robert R. Pritchard, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

[1] “The New York State Education Department is compiling a digitized catalogue of resources that will assist schools in providing content related learning activities for their students.  This resource will be available in the coming days on the Curriculum and Instruction website.” See 3/17/20 Guidance from Interim Commissioner Tahoe at page 4.