Our school communities have entered our third calendar year of the pandemic. As 2022 begins, I want to thank our students, families, staff and others for their cooperation during this difficult and disruptive time. While 2021 brought us numerous challenges and changes, you demonstrated what was possible through teamwork, adaptability, perseverance and patience. I also wish to thank our partners at the Columbia, Greene and Rensselaer County departments of health for their assistance since last March.

We continue to meet weekly with our school superintendents to discuss current conditions and guidance. The past couple of weeks have been busy, with increasing cases and anxiety, changing guidance, and the mobilization of state-provided test kits. While schools have reported an increasing number of cases since opening on Jan. 3, many of these cases are community spread. These cases are inevitably associated with schools due to our reporting requirements. However, the Governor, State Health Commissioner and others have said that schools are one of the safer gathering places during the pandemic due to our established health and safety protocols, including mask wearing and physical distancing.

U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said there will be “bumps in the road” as schools reopen in the New Year amid a record surge in cases. Please do not live in a state of fear or panic, but do continue to follow the protocols and to exercise restraint. We also ask families and staff to be prepared to go remote at any time due to the impact of quarantines on staffing. Our goal is to keep schools open for in-person instruction, but we have already seen some schools have to modify operations due to staffing. Within Columbia, Greene and Rensselaer counties, Questar III received 30,0000 test kits from the state over a holiday weekend to distribute to 22 districts and students in our full-time BOCES programs. We are hopeful that these kits will be readily available in the weeks to come (and expand to staff). Prior to the state’s assistance, the test supply was scarce. Our BOCES had received incomplete orders or delayed shipments in our efforts to implement surveillance testing locally in partnership with the counties. I encourage you to speak with your physician with any questions about vaccination for you or your child — and to schedule an appointment if you intend to be vaccinated. While this is a personal choice, there are regulations associated with different industries, including schools. We must test unvaccinated staff each week and offer testing to students with parental consent.

Prior to break, I wrote Governor Hochul and State Health Commissioner Bassett on behalf of local superintendents asking the state to reopen mass testing sites. The state has now opened sites at Crossgates Mall, University at Albany (with saliva testing available), and SUNY Poly in Albany. Please visit https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/find-test-site-near-you to find a test site near you. If we look at the experiences of South Africa and Denmark, the next couple of weeks may be difficult, but cases will peak and decline over time.

More evidence is emerging that the omicron variant is milder, especially among those who are vaccinated and boosted. Please be safe.

In other news, I want to congratulate Dr. Lisamarie Spindler for being named the next superintendent at Hudson CSD effective Feb. 1 and Michael Bennett for being named the next superintendent of Greenville CSD, effective March 7. We look forward to working with them. Best wishes to retiring superintendents Tammie Sutherland and Maria Suttmeier.

Starting in July, we will relocate our special education programs based at Catskill High School to the Durham School. Questar III has leased space for the Catskill Academy from Catskill CSD since 2011. We thank Catskill CSD and its staff for their hospitality over the past decade. We look forward to creating a new school community that continues to enhance learning opportunities for local students. The Durham School building, which is owned and operated by Questar III after voter approval in Cairo-Durham in June 2020, will provide students and staff with additional benefits, including: larger classroom space; our own gym and cafeteria; more outdoor space for activities and physical education; collaboration with career and technical education (CTE) classes located onsite including Heavy Equipment and a new Agriculture Science program starting this fall; a new maker space room and a new PAES Lab providing students with the skills needed for vocational training, placement, and independent living.

I have emphasized over the past two years the importance of following health and safety protocols to stay healthy — as you know the guidance is changing very quickly. Schools will continue to communicate the latest information through all sources available to them. Please stay in tune with your child’s school and your local health department’s communications.

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