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The East Greenbush Central School District, in coordination with 21 other component school districts from Questar III BOCES, hosted “Learning from the Past, Reimagining the Future: A Regional School Community Forum” on Wednesday, June 2 from 7:30-9:00 p.m. The purpose of this virtual forum was to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on our schools and advocate for regulations and guidance to permit a full reopening of all schools in September.

School districts, including those across the Capital Region, have advocated for updated state guidance that would enable full time in-person learning for all students in September. Certain current restrictions set by the NYS Department of Health, such as cohorting at the middle school and high school levels, have prevented a full reopening to this point, even as the pandemic’s outlook has improved.

During the forum, Superintendent Jeff Simons advocated for those same changes that regional superintendents have asked for previously:

  • Removing cohort requirement at the secondary level
  • Changing social distancing on school buses while maintaining mandatory masks, window ventilation and continued cleaning and disinfecting
  • Adjusting social distancing in classrooms and cafeterias to 3 feet when students are eating
  • Need for updated state guidance for reopening in September

“As we see other areas and other sectors of our state opening up and providing new guidance, we’re hoping to advocate together as one community for a full school reopening offering in-person learning to all of our students in September,” said Mr. Simons.

As part of the virtual event, the public answered a survey question and 93% of respondents said they are “supportive of changes to state regulations that would allow for full time in-person learning at all schools in September.”

ThoughtExchange slide - survey results

New York State Education Commissioner Dr. Betty Rosa accepted an invitation to attend the forum and said her department is working closely with the Governor’s office and the NYS Department of Health to develop new guidance for school districts so they can plan for the 2021-22 school year.

“Planning is essential,” said Dr. Rosa. “We’re hopeful that many of the issues with transportation, with social distancing, with masks, returning kids back to in-person are decisions that we can collectively make.”

The forum provided a venue for students, teachers, a parent and a school board member to provide their perspectives on the impact COVID-19 has had on schools, as well as a health and safety update presented by Questar’s Director of Health and Safety Craig Hansen. The speakers described the challenges the pandemic has created but also the flexibility and resiliency shown by everyone involved in education – students, families, teachers, staff, administrators and Boards of Education.

During the Q&A session, a panel including Dr. Rosa, Assemblyman John McDonald and school staff from multiple school districts responded to questions on the topics of in-person learning, masks, transportation, classroom instruction and vaccinations.

“What I take away from this evening that’s most gratifying, which I kind of knew coming into this evening but has been reinforced 10 times over tonight, is that we’re all focused on providing the best opportunities for our children,” said Assemblyman McDonald. “As long as we remain focused on that, I do believe greater success is going to follow.”

Special thanks to all of the participants at this event, including:

  • Dr. Betty Rosa, NYS Education Commissioner
  • Assemblyman John McDonald
  • Craig Hansen, Director of Health and Safety at Questar III BOCES
  • Alyssa Pitcheralle ’21, Columbia High School Student
  • Joseph Vitali ’21, Columbia High School Student
  • Kim Turner, East Greenbush CSD Parent
  • Heather Silvernail, Questar III BOCES Teacher
  • Kelly Smith, New Lebanon Teacher
  • Peg Danner-Frank, Questar III BOCES Teacher
  • Todd Hilgendorff, Cairo-Durham School Board Member
  • Superintendents from Questar Component Districts