Several districts in the Twin Counties have opted to go fully remote as they prepare for the possibility that the area may be labeled a microcluster.
Originally slated to return to in-person instruction Monday, Windham-Ashland-Jewett and Hunter-Tannersville will stay remote until after the Christmas break. Elementary students at Cairo-Durham will also switch to virtual learning until January, joining grades 6-12.
“It is with a heavy heart to inform you that Hunter-Tannersville Central will go fully remote from Dec. 14-23,” Superintendent Nate Jones wrote in a letter to parents. “I am a true believer in the benefits of in-person instruction, and this decision has not been made lightly. We have thoroughly thought this through and believe this is in the best interest of Hunter-Tannersville Central.”
Jones cited the high positivity rate in Greene County in his reasoning.
“With Gov. Cuomo’s new metrics, counties, or even smaller clusters such as townships, may be designated yellow, orange or red, based on the positivity rate,” he said. “At this current time, Greene County’s positivity rate has been over the 4% threshold for six consecutive days — on Day 10, the microcluster strategy could kick in. I predict by this weekend, parts of Greene County will be designated yellow or orange. If that happens, schools must test for COVID-19 to stay open.”
Greene County reported 83 active cases Friday.
The district is not ready to begin testing and does not have the Limited Service Laboratory License needed to conduct testing, Jones said.
“We are working with the Greene County Department of Health and local health officials to prepare to bring testing to Hunter-Tannersville Central,” he said. “We do not want to rush this process.”
For a school to remain open in a yellow zone, the district would have to screen 20% of in-person students and staff over a two-week period. In an orange zone, a school would have to test 20% per month. For schools in red zones, the requirement is 30% per month.
The district plans to return to in-person instruction after the new year, Jones said.
“Our district’s priority heading into the new year is to prepare for testing,” he said. “We will educate the community on the Abbott BinaxNOW rapid test and design a systematic process when school is not in session and get parental consent.”
Hunter-Tannersville has reported six positive cases to date.
Windham-Ashland-Jewett also closed due to the county’s positivity rate.
“Due to a number of variables, including the elevated infection rate in Greene County, Windham-Ashland-Jewett will continue providing remote instruction for all students, Monday, Dec. 14 through Wednesday, Dec. 23,” according to the district website. “This decision is made out of the necessity to help control viral spread within our community and out of an abundance of caution for the safety and well-being of our students, families, employees and community.”
The district has reported one positive case to date.
At Cairo-Durham, middle and high school students switched to remote learning Dec. 10. Superintendent Michael Wetherbee announced Sunday that elementary students would also attend remotely until January. The district has reported nine cases to date, most recently a staff member at the elementary school. The employee was last on campus Friday.
“After working with the Greene County Department of Health to complete contact tracing, it was determined that a significant number of elementary staff were exposed and must quarantine as a result,” Wetherbee said in a letter to parents. “Due to insufficient in-person staffing, pre-K through grade 5 must shift to remote instruction effective Monday, Dec. 14. Due to the length of the quarantines, remote instruction will continue until the holiday recess and in-person classes will resume on Monday, Jan. 4.”
Families whose children need meal services or internet access should contact the school district, Wetherbee said.
The district also had a middle school student test positive Friday, but the school’s learning plan was not affected because grades 6-12 switched to remote learning Dec. 10.
“We understand the inconvenience of a sudden shift to remote learning, and finishing the calendar year with our entire district learning remotely is not what [we] hoped for,” he said. “We must keep doing the best we can to support our students and finish the year strong despite the circumstances.”
Greenville has reported 10 cases to date, Coxsackie-Athens three and Catskill four.
Greenville and Coxsackie school districts indicated they were making preparations for testing.
“While Coxsackie-Athens Schools is not currently in one of these zones, we are working with the county to be ready if any part of our community is labeled,” Superintendent Randall Squier said in a letter to parents. “Our district plans to remain open during Yellow, Orange, and Red zones if it can comply with the state’s testing requirements.”
The district will send out consent forms for in-person students, Squier said, adding that students using the virtual model would not be tested. Students whose guardians have consented to the screening would be selected at random for testing.
“The district is preparing plans to train our school nurses in rapid-testing protocol,” Squier said.
The rapid tests are non-invasive, he added.
Greenville Central School is also preparing for testing in the event that the county or part of the county is labeled, Superintendent Tammy Sutherland said in a letter to parents, adding that the district plans to stay open.
In Columbia County, several schools have switched to remote learning due to positive COVID-19 cases.
Ichabod Crane Central School District reported a positive COVID case in the high school Dec. 13, and announced the school would go remote Monday, Superintendent Suzanne Guntlow wrote in a letter to district families Sunday evening. The district would assess its ability to reopen for in-person learning depending on the availability of substitute staff.
The district announced Monday that an additional high school student has tested positive for COVID-19, but had not been at the school since Dec. 8. In a letter to district families Monday, the superintendent wrote the high school would remain fully remote but all other students would continue their schedules as usual.
“Since the combination of the two positive cases in the building requires a large number of staff and students to quarantine, the high school only will operate on a full remote learning schedule through the Holiday Recess Dec. 24 to Jan. 3,” Guntlow said in a statement.
The Germantown Elementary School will also be fully remote until after winter break. The district announced Friday that some staff members were considered to be a “person under investigation regarding COVID-19.” A letter sent to district families said a couple of staff members had shown symptoms of the virus and were getting tested for it.
Students at the elementary school were dismissed early Friday afternoon because of the potential cases. Elementary students will remain remote until Jan. 4 after the winter break.
“We understand this is a significant change for our students, staff members and families, Germantown Central School District superintendent Benjamin Bragg wrote in a letter to district families.
“This decision was not made lightly,” Bragg said. “We have seen a significant increase in positive cases throughout our region and feel this is a necessary action to keep our elementary students and staff as safe as possible and to avoid widespread infection. Our top priority is the health and safety of our school community.”
Last week, Chatham Central School District announced on its website an elementary school student had tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday. The student had not been at the school since Dec. 2. The district was notified by the Health Department that there was no need for contact tracing in the district because there was no potential exposure, according to the district.
The district announced Wednesday a student at Chatham High School had tested positive for COVID-19 but had not been at the school since Nov. 30, so there was no potential COVID exposure to other staff or students. All in-person instruction will continue.