I remain thankful to all in our school community who are taking every possible step to stay healthy and safe, which allowed us to keep our buildings open for teaching and learning through the first 10 weeks of school. I am grateful to our teachers and all members of our staff who have been working tirelessly to support children whether you are driving a bus, preparing meals or cleaning and sanitizing our buildings. I am proud of the work we continue to do for every student, every day during unprecedented and unpredictable times.
Last week, we learned of our first in-person COVID-19 positive case that resulted in the Department of Health quarantining an entire classroom. Truth-be-told, I was not at all sure that we would make it past Columbus Day let alone 10 weeks of school before this type of action would be necessary. Later in the week, we were notified of a second positive case, which forced us to move all grades 6-12 classrooms to remote learning because of a staffing shortage that had resulted from mandatory quarantines related to the earlier case.
With COVID-19 infection on the rise in Albany County and the arrival of the holiday season, I remind our families, students, teachers and staff that it remains vitally important for all of us to follow COVID-19 safety protocols that include wearing face coverings, practicing good hygiene, social distancing, and avoiding gatherings of 10 or more people.
Actions taken outside of school and on the weekends have direct consequences on our ability to keep our schools open and hold in-person instruction safely. Several neighboring school districts have been forced to close for weeks at a time due to parties or other gatherings within the school community that have resulted in positive COVID-19 cases and individuals placed under a mandatory quarantine by local departments of health.
Prior to reopening our doors in September, it has been our priority to provide the safest learning environment possible for our staff and our students, whether they are learning in-person or remotely. Limiting the size of gatherings outside of school helps lower the potential spread of COVID-19. We continue to make every effort possible to protect the health and safety of our school community and are doing everything within our power to keep our schools open.
What the Cluster Action Initiative Means for Schools
With significant numbers of COVID-19 cases cropping up in counties around the state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new strategy — the Cluster Action Initiative — to help stop the virus from spreading. Through this initiative, the state monitors and identifies areas where clusters have formed. Once identified, the cluster area is divided into color-coded zones: Red, Orange or Yellow.
Yellow and orange indicate “warning zones.” It is important to note that the color-coded system applies to entire communities, not just schools. Even if a school district does not have any confirmed cases of COVID-19, it may be included in a color-coded zone based on the region’s metrics.
If trends continue, it is possible that Albany County could be designated a Yellow Zone before too long. While that does not require a mandatory school or district closure, it does require us to comply with specific testing protocols to remain open.
Schools in yellow zones are required to test 20% of in-person learners and teachers/staff. If our region is designated a Yellow Zone, our goal is to keep schools open. We believe there is no substitute for academic, social and emotional benefits of in-person learning and we are confident the safety protocols we follow in our schools have been effective.
According to the current state guidelines, there are certain precautionary measures that will become necessary if our region is identified as a Yellow Zone.
School nurses with support from Whitney Young School-Based Health Center staff will test 20% of all in-person staff and students over a two-week period following an announcement that we are in a Yellow Zone. In the case of students, parents/guardians will be asked to complete a consent form prior to testing. There will be no cost for these tests.
- If the positivity rate of the district is lower than the current positivity rate for the region, no more testing is necessary.
- If the positivity rate of the district is higher than the current positivity rate for the region, we will continue to test 20% of in-person learners, faculty and staff on a bi-weekly basis.
I encourage our families, teachers and staff to continue to watch their email and the district website for information and updates. As always, please contact your building principal or the district office with questions.
The best defense: personal responsibility
With cases on the rise, it is especially important to remember that personal responsibility is the best defense for keeping our students safe and keeping our schools open. In the midst of a public health crisis, the actions of a few can cause a ripple effect in the greater community.
We all must do our part – so please continue to wear your masks properly, wash your hands or use hand sanitizer, practice social distancing, avoid gatherings of more than 10 people, get a flu shot and follow all CDC and DOH guidelines in and outside of school.
I wish everyone a peaceful, safe and healthy Thanksgiving. 🦃