CHATHAM — Chatham Central School District officials held a virtual town hall meeting focusing on back-to-school information for families.
More than 125 people Monday attended the meeting to discuss the upcoming school year and what it will look like for staff and students.
“Our focus this year is on in-person learning,” Chatham Superintendent Salvatore DeAngelo said. “We are prepared to make temporary shifts to remote instruction should the situation require us to do so. All of tonight’s information and our plan was created in accordance with the recommendations and guidance from the New York State Education Department and the American Academy of Paediatrics as well as most recently the New York State Department of Health and certainly the CDC.”
The meeting included a presentation of what the upcoming school year will look like with the COVID-19 safety measures in place. Questions about the upcoming school year were answered by DeAngelo and Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb.
The first day of school for staff will be Sept. 7, and Sept. 9 for students, DeAngelo said. The district will be following 3-foot social distancing in most indoor areas of school. Six-foot distancing will be in place during indoor activities such as lunch, band and chorus practice and for physical education. This year students will be in-person full-time and there is no remote option. Some exceptions will be made for students who cannot attend in-person for medical reasons and have proper documentation.
This school year the district will no longer use the daily online self-check program for students and staff or performing temperature checks at school.
“Universally, we decided that they didn’t really yield anything meaningful,” DeAngelo said. “There were not any great examples, maybe one or two in the entire county where that yielded additional information where it prevented a potential exposure.”
DeAngelo and Mabb said it is important that if a child is not feeling well they should not come into school.
“The bottom line is if your child is ill, running a fever or obviously having any of the COVID-related symptoms, the best course of action is to keep them home so that they can be properly evaluated and not run the risk of exposing them to other students,” DeAngelo said. “We are really relying on our parents to, in a lot of ways, provide a good-faith effort to keep their children home when they’re ill.”
The district is continuing to promote healthy hygiene and frequent handwashing practices. DeAngelo said cleaning and disinfection will take place daily.
“In no uncertain terms everyone must wear a mask at all times indoors, regardless of vaccination status,” DeAngelo said. “So that is the protocol that we will be following.”
It is also important for masks to be worn properly, Mabb said. A mask should fit properly and if it is under a person’s nose it is not working.
“I would strongly encourage, especially on the bus, kids that are taking the bus, parents really encourage their kids to wear the mask properly,” Mabb said. “That’s a scary place for me because of the proximity and the length of time kids are on the bus. They need to be properly worn.”
The school district is returning to full capacity on school buses this year, DeAngelo said. Two students will be allowed per seat and all students and staff are required to be masked on the bus regardless of vaccination status. Bus windows will be open whenever possible to increase ventilation.
The quarantine period for anyone testing positive is 10 days, DeAngelo said. There is no testing out of the quarantine period early.
“In our county we are not recognizing the CDC recommendation to test out early from a quarantine situation,” DeAngelo said. “So if a student is positive then they would have to serve the entire 10-day quarantine period.”
The CDC has four different categories for the level of community transmission a county is in: high, substantial, moderate and low. Columbia County was recently classified as an area of high community transmission for COVID.
“This has recently come into importance, particularly with our athletic department,” DeAngelo said. “We are in high transmission, and right now in collaboration with decisions made at the Columbia County Department of Health and among the Columbia County superintendents we are currently testing high-risk athletes so those participating in football, volleyball and cheer twice a week and we are testing all other athletes once a week.”