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As epidemic wanes, New York archdiocese schools plan for full reopening

Back to school photo Students in a classroom.

When the next school year begins, all Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York will be open for in-person learning for the full school week because new health directives mean the schools can operate without needing hybrid or remote classes for students.

“My goal and that of the Health and Safety Task Force is to commit all our collective expertise and resources to ensure all our schools will be open for five full days a week of in-person instruction for all students beginning in September 2021,” Michael J. Deegan, Superintendent of Catholic Schools in the Archdiocese of New York, wrote in an April 20 letter to students' families.

“Your faithful commitment to our rigorous protocols has ensured the continued health and safety of our school communities,” Deegan said. “Our children have been learning and have been safe!”

The plans are still dependent on the rule and requirements of federal and local health agencies and on a low level of COVID-19 infections.

The Archdiocese of New York’s Catholic schools serve more than 67,000 students from Pre-K to twelfth grade, throughout the ten southern counties of New York State. Soon after the coronavirus epidemic arrived in the U.S. and devastated the northeastern U.S., the New York Catholic school system set up a Health and Safety Sask Force to help determine whether and how education should proceed in the novel circumstances.

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Despite the coronavirus epidemic, the Catholic schools have been open for in-person, five-day-a-week instruction since September 2020. However, many schools are working on a hybrid model and alternate some students between remote learning and in-person education, the Staten Island Advance news website reports.

The superintendent's letter also gave guidance for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year.

The letter announced that fully remote students, “effective immediately,” will no longer be required to present a negative coronavirus test to participate in school events, graduation ceremonies and the Catholic sacraments.

Deegan noted the Centers for Disease Control recommendations have reduced social distancing requirements from six to three feet, which have allowed for schools to free up space for more students.

However, he said that the majority of Catholic schools would maintain the six-foot social distance guidelines because they are unable to meet CDC and New York State criteria for moving to a three-foot distance. Schools will consider the three foot distance standard only if this both allows for in-person learning every day and if six feet distance is able to be maintained during mask breaks.

Deegan wrote that schools with Health and Safety Task Force permission to reduce desk space to three feet will be “required by the state to have parent meetings and revise and submit their plans to the local health department as well as the New York State Department of Health and State Education Department.”

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Deegan thanked the support of parents, students, pastors, and school staff for their work throughout the pandemic.

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