Greene schools seek clear direction for fall

A classroom at Catskill Elementary School. File photo

Greene County schools joined Columbia County in a letter to the commissioner of the state Department of Health seeking guidance to plan the return to classrooms this fall.

Less than two months away from the beginning of classes, schools are trying to plan how to safely reopen and keep kids in schools. School districts in Columbia and Greene counties signed a letter asking the state for clearer direction on protocols and submitted recommendations.

According to the letter — submitted on behalf of 22 superintendents by Dr. Gladys Cruz, district superintendent of the Questar III Board of Cooperative Educational Services — districts are asking the state to return to full pre-COVID bus capacity, to reduce social distancing to 3 feet, and to require masks for all while moving in school buildings but allow them to be removed when in the classroom for both vaccinated and unvaccinated.

“Our efforts last year – in accordance with state guidance and coordination with our county health officials – allowed many, but not all, of our students to return to in-person learning. We respectfully

request that updated guidance for the 2021-22 school year be issued as soon as possible to allow leaders to effectively plan in partnership with local county health officials,” the letter reads.

The letter is signed by the superintendents of Catskill, Coxsackie-Athens, Greenville and Cairo-Durham school districts as well as Greene County Director of Public Health Kimberly Kaplan.

Greene County Public Health Department received $1.2 million to operate COVID-19 surveillance testing in schools in an effort to keep kids in the classroom full-time.

Laura Churchill, deputy director of public health, said at Greene County Legislature’s Health Services Committee meeting the grant comes from the New York State Department of Health and is supported by the American Rescue Plan. It provides one year of funding for the six school districts, which will individually decide how to administer the funds in surveillance testing and point-of-care testing for COVID.

Churchill said 85% of the funding will go directly to the schools, and districts can decide how to use the funding — like hiring a team of nurses to monitor the disease or choosing for the school nurse to keep track, for example. The remaining 15% will be used to hire a grant administrator to oversee the distribution of funds.

Schools are waiting for further instruction as Greene County COVID-19 cases are on the rise. As of July 14, the county reported 16 active positive cases — an increase of six from July 13, according to the public health department. Less than 50% of the county’s population has completed a vaccine series, according to the department.

Ronell Cook, superintendent of Catskill schools, said in an email the district intends to return in-person five days a week and is planning as such.

“The goal is to return to school in the fall for in-person instruction where students are able to engage socially and explore with their peers,” Cook said. “We are still awaiting much needed information from the Governor’s office, NYS Department of Health and the State Department of Education to effectively communicate to the school community.”

Cook said the district to avoid using Catskill school district teachers for remote instruction with the exception of the Distance Learning Platform. He said the district has explored a remote elementary school options and a potential secondary school option, but medical documentation will need to be provided with the request for remote learning.

“We understand that some parents may still have anxiety with sending their children back to school in fall,” Cook said.

Greenville Central Schools will host a public hearing Aug. 9 to review a school safety plan, which includes a public health emergency plan based on the available information. The plan includes protocols for remote work and designates employees essential to in-person operations, according to the plan posted on the district’s website.

Michael Wetherbee, superintendent of the Cairo-Durham school district, said in an email planning without direction hasn’t been easy.

“It is very difficult to plan at this point as there has been no direct guidance from the Department of Health, Governor’s office or the State Education Department,” Wetherbee said. “Last summer we received it in the middle of July. My hope is we will receive guidance shortly and can begin to understand what will be needed to successfully open school in the fall.”

Coxsackie-Athens, Washington-Ashland-Jewett and Hunter-Tannersville schools did not respond in time for publication.

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