The East Greenbush Central School District Board of Education approved the return of full time kindergarten at its public meeting on Wednesday evening. Starting Monday, March 1, kindergarten students will return to five days of in-person learning at each elementary school. The Full Remote program will still be available to families who choose that option.

The Board of Education unanimously supported Superintendent Jeff Simons’ proposal to bring back the district’s youngest students to in-person learning five days a week.

“We wish we could have implemented this sooner and at additional grade levels, but we are optimistic that the additional in-person learning days for our youngest students will yield significant learning growth for our children,” said Mr. Simons. “Pending continued good news regarding COVID-19, this increase in our students’ engagement with their teachers and their peers will help each of our Kindergarteners finish strong!”

Kindergarten students on the first day of school

Kindergarten classroom with social distancing.

The district has been operating a K-12 Hybrid Model since the start of school in September with students receiving two days of in-person learning, one day of live virtual instruction and two days of remote learning.

The hybrid model decreased class sizes to comply with state social distancing guidelines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. While these guidelines have helped schools keep students, staff and families safer by reducing community spread, it has been a challenge to engage with students in the same way as normal.

“During this pandemic we have all learned the tremendous value of in-person learning,” said James McHugh, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “We recognize that students benefit greatly from the face-to-face interactions with their classmates and teachers as they develop healthy relationships and strive to acquire the knowledge they need to be successful.”

District administrators began to make plans for the return of kindergarten students back in October. However, COVID-19 infection rates started to increase as the weather grew colder and continued through the holiday season, forcing the district to postpone those plans.

As of February 10, which is the most recent data available, the 7-day rolling average infection rate in Rensselaer County is 2.4%, and shows the holiday surge coming to an end. Just five weeks ago, the county’s infection rate was 11.3%.

Throughout the school year, administrators have maintained a commitment to bring back as many students for in-person learning as possible. A review of class lists, classroom capacity and bus routes showed that kindergarten students in the A Day and B Day cohorts could be combined and remain within the social distancing guidelines. All of the kindergarten students returning from the hybrid model to five days of in-person learning will stay with the same classroom teachers they have had this school year.

“I certainly support moving forward in this direction within the timetable and appreciate the work that’s gone into that,” said Board of Education President Michael Buono, “including the ongoing work to hire, to talk to the staff and work with our bargaining units to make this happen. We really appreciate it and I know our families will appreciate it.”

Kindergarten classroomOptions have been considered to increase in-person learning for all grades at the K-5 level, however, an analysis of the data indicates that, at this point, only kindergarten can be brought back into school five days a week while complying with state regulations on social distancing.

The district has discussed eliminating Live Virtual Wednesdays for grades 1-5 to provide those students with an additional in-person learning day every other week. The district will be sending an online survey to parents about that topic later today.

District administrators will continue to review data and consider if any additional increases of in-person learning are feasible and can be implemented safely as the school year progresses.

Any changes to the reopening instructional plan would need to be recommended by Mr. Simons and then approved by the Board of Education.

“The state’s social distancing guidelines and our enrollment in Grades 1-5 currently prevent the district from offering five days per week of in-person instruction in these grades,” said Mr. Simons. “We are preparing to change the schedule on Wednesdays to provide our student cohort groups, one additional day of in-person learning every other week if the schedules of families are not negatively impacted and once we work through the logistics of the transition with our teachers.”

Assemblyman John McDonald, who represents an area within the East Greenbush Central School District boundaries, was invited to join the board meeting to discuss education topics at the state level.

During that discussion, Mr. Simons advocated for the state legislature to consider reducing some of the social distancing requirements so that more students could come back to in-person learning five days a week.

Assemblyman McDonald responded by saying that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was working on enhanced guidance for schools that could shorten the distance between children in schools, allowing for an increase of in-person learning in schools across the country.

Kindergarten Parent Meeting – Tuesday, February 23 at 6:30 p.m.

The East Greenbush Central School District has scheduled a Kindergarten Parent Meeting for Tuesday, February 23 (6:30-7:30 p.m.) to discuss the return of full time kindergarten. The event will be live streamed and provide an opportunity for members from the school community to ask questions.