Catskill returns to remote learning

File photo The entrance to Catskill High School on West Main Street.

CATSKILL — As COVID-19 cases in Greene County continue to swell, the Catskill Central School District announced Wednesday night that Catskill High School would immediately move to remote learning for at least the next seven school days.

On Tuesday, school officials announced that three individuals in the district had tested positive for COVID-19, including two students and one staff member from Catskill Middle School.

Catskill School Superintendent Ronel Cook on Wednesday released a letter to district families announcing that beginning Jan. 6, the high school would move to remote learning, with a projected return date of Jan. 18 for high school students to resume in-person classes.

“The decision to shift from in-person to remote learning on Wednesday was based on the high number of positive COVID cases of students reported at the high school for the day, the number of students on quarantine, coupled with the shortage of support staff,” Cook wrote in an email Thursday.

Cook said the district is taking a number of steps to prepare for the expected return of in-person learning to the district on Jan. 18.

The district will “continue to monitor the infection rate of Catskill CSD high school students and staff,” Cook wrote. “(We) encourage parents to use the at-home test kits for students who display COVID-related symptoms.

More than 500 at-home test kits were distributed to parents Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We believe the elevated positives cases reported were a result of the test kits used Tuesday evening into Wednesday,” Cook said. “(We will) continue to distribute test kits for parents who want them. We encourage sick staff to stay home and parents to keep sick children home. We also encourage students to socialize responsibly outside of school.

“In closing, our custodians and cleaners do a good job with cleaning our facilities,” Cook said. “The district has doubled down with contracting with a vendor for cleaning our schools twice a week. GenEon Fogger Mist Units are both used by our staff and the outside vendor to sanitize surface areas, offices and restrooms.”

The high school operated on a two-hour-delay schedule Thursday to allow staff to prepare for the transition to remote learning. The elementary school and middle school will continue to conduct in-person learning while the high school goes remote.

The Hunter-Tannersville School District moved exclusively to remote learning on Jan. 3 due to severe staffing shortages and the increase in COVID cases in Greene County.

The district initially announced that in-person classes would resume Wednesday, but in a statement released on Jan. 4, School Superintendent Nate Jones announced that remote learning would continue for the rest of the week.

“Yesterday and today, our administrators and support team met several times to discuss the district’s options to get students back into the building this Wednesday,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, after reviewing staff members under quarantine or an isolation requirement, we cannot open either building safely for in-person learning for the remainder of this week. We apologize for the inconvenience and anticipate opening our buildings on Monday, Jan. 10.”

Coxsackie-Athens Central School District Superintendent Randall Squier said his district has no plans to move to remote learning.

“No,” he said on Thursday. “It’s a day-to-day observation. We’re monitoring the number of teachers who are out. There’s a lot of times that teachers or staff are out because they themselves have COVID. Oftentimes they might be out for child-care reasons because one of their child’s schools has gone remote. So we’re monitoring it on a day-to-day basis. If we feel that we’re understaffed, then we’ll pivot to remote.”

The Coxsackie-Athens superintendent said the district has strived to stay open since the pandemic began in March 2020.

“We’ve been in school since day one,” Squier said. “We’ve never gone full remote except for, I think, two or three days a year ago. We decided to go remote for a couple of days because at that time it was considered a spike in cases. But we’ve always been in-person five days a week. Last year we did give kids the option to be remote and we had about 20% of our kids who were remote every day with live instruction. So we’ve been here with kids every day.”

Greene County Administrator Shaun Groden said he is in regular contact with all of the superintendents in the county to discuss the health and safety of the county’s student population.

“Myself and (Greene County Director of Public Health) Kimberly Kaplan have a weekly Zoom meeting every Wednesday with all the superintendents in the school districts and the staff at BOCES,” he said. “We go over every new issue. We go over the issue of whether to stay in school and the distribution of tests to schools. We go over that every week.”

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