The East Greenbush Central School District Board of Education approved the return of Grades 3-5 for full time in-person learning at its public meeting on Tuesday evening in response to New York State’s Revised Interim Guidance for In-Person Instruction that reduced social distancing restrictions from 6 feet to 3 feet.
Those grades are scheduled to return full time starting Monday, April 26, which will fully reopen all elementary schools. The K-12 Full Remote program will still be available to families who choose that option.
“We are encouraged that our elementary students will be able to complete the school year with full time in-person learning,” said Superintendent Jeff Simons. “The new regulations permit the district to make adjustments to our reopening plan. Given some of the constraints included within the new regulations related to middle school and high school, we will continue to pursue options to serve more students in person within the 6 feet social distancing requirements.”
The district has operated a K-12 Hybrid Model for much of the school year until Kindergarten (March 1), Grade 1 (March 29) and Grade 2 (April 13) were brought back for full time in-person learning once the holiday surge of COVID-19 cases ended. Other grade levels were too large to bring back while maintaining the required 6 feet social distancing.
On March 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its social distancing recommendations from 6 feet to 3 feet. However, the CDC has no authority over New York State schools; it simply makes recommendations.
Mr. Simons advocated for the state to adopt those recommendations by sending letters to the NYS Departments of Health and Education and elected representatives. On April 9, during Spring Recess, the NYS Department of Health adopted the CDC recommendations and updated its social distancing regulations.
However, as part of the state’s updated guidance, middle schools and high schools can only move to 3 feet social distancing in a “High Risk Transmission” county if those schools can cohort students. (Rensselaer County, like most counties in New York, is currently designated as a “High Risk Transmission” area based on CDC metrics.)
Cohorting would mean keeping a group of students together for all of their classes throughout the day. It is not feasible to implement cohorting at the secondary level as it would require changing student schedules, teacher assignments and eliminating electives, college credit courses and AP courses for the 4th marking period.
Therefore, Columbia and Goff will remain in the Hybrid Model at this time.
The East Greenbush CSD will continue to evaluate options for Columbia and Goff students to receive increased in-person learning at 6 feet social distancing where possible. Should Rensselaer County move from “High Risk Transmission” to “Substantial Risk Transmission,” the district would bring back all students for full time in-person learning as cohorting would not be required.
In a virtual community meeting on Monday evening, Mr. Simons asked parents to join him in advocating for the state’s cohorting requirement to be eliminated or for the state to use its own COVID infection rates as opposed to the CDC metrics so Columbia and Goff students could be brought back for full time in-person learning. According to state data, Rensselaer County has a 7-day COVID infection rate of 1.5%.
“Anyone is encouraged to write a letter to the NYS Department of Health or to your elected assembly or senate representatives,” Mr. Simons said at the community meeting. “That letter should specifically ask for a review of the NYS Department of Health guidance that would permit middle school and high school students to come back for full in-person learning and not have the social distancing requirement predicated on (CDC) community transmission rates … Additionally one request could be to permit counties to direct and review plans by the schools.”
During the Board of Education meeting, Mr. Simons outlined the updated state guidance and the modifications the elementary schools would need to make to accommodate the increased number of students starting next week.
- Classroom Spacing
- Most K-2 classrooms will remain at 6 feet social distancing as they are already in school full time at that distance
- Most grades 3-5 classes will be 3 feet social distancing
- Special Area Instruction
- Most specials will be taught in the special area classroom
- Some classes will have art or music in their regular classroom
- Physical Education will be taught outdoors unless inclement weather
- Music may be taught outdoors weather permitting
- Most grades will continue to eat lunch in the cafeteria
- Some classes will need to eat in their classrooms or other locations to ensure 6 feet social distancing
- Buses will continue to have social distancing as practical and in consultation with the County
- Windows and hatches will be opened to increase fresh air
- Students and staff must wear face masks
- Arrival and Dismissal Procedures
- No changes at this time
- Parents are reminded to arrive during their assigned timeframes
- Parent dropoff and pickup may be adjusted to alleviate traffic issues due to increased students at school
- Mask Breaks
- Mask breaks will only be permitted when socially distanced at 6 feet or during Recess, Lunch or outdoor Physical Education
After the presentation and discussion, the Board of Education unanimously approved the resolution to fully reopen district elementary schools.
“The Board continues to support the ability of our students to return to in-person instruction, as well as other school-related activities, as the guidance and recommendations allow us to do so,” said Board of Education President Michael Buono. “We recognize there are still challenges to work through based on the current guidance, but we will continue to explore those opportunities that would enable more of our students to receive in-person learning.”