PLATTSBURGH — Six Clinton County school districts and Champlain Valley Educational Services BOCES' Plattsburgh campuses are set to resume their in-person/hybrid modes of instruction next week following weeks of fully-remote learning.
Conversely, most other districts in the tri-county area went back to their buildings following the December break, though two Franklin County districts are slated to continue with distance learning until March 1.
"The decision to move to remote instruction or the reverse, to move to in-person instruction, are based on statistical data and medical advice from the county health departments," CVES BOCES District Superintendent Dr. Mark Davey told The Press-Republican.
"We are following the science, i.e. watching infection rates, numbers of COVID cases, impact of quarantines, et cetera, on this daily and weekly, including, for example, discussions on post-holiday potential surges of COVID cases resulting in COVID case spikes."
As elsewhere, Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties saw their COVID-19 case counts climb in the wake of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, though Essex County tended to maintain the lowest numbers of the three.
Clinton County in particular saw huge growth in cases, reaching a high of 444 at one time earlier this month, County Public Health Director John Kanoza has said.
In a letter to the Plattsburgh City School District community Wednesday, Superintendent of Schools Jay Lebrun noted that new COVID infection rates in the county had not reduced as much as hoped, but cited students' educational and social-emotional needs in the decision to return to hybrid instruction Monday, Feb. 1.
The potential for hybrid schooling to have "an 'on again, off again' flavor" continues and may do so through the end of the school year, Lebrun continued.
"Throughout, we will continue to monitor the situation closely, consider input from stakeholders and try to navigate the often-competing needs of public health and student education. This balance is difficult, but we will continue to do what we believe is best."
Joining Plattsburgh CSD in resuming some form of in-person learning next week are the AuSable Valley, Beekmantown, Northern Adirondack, Peru and Saranac school districts as well as the CV-TEC and CVES Special Education programs offered in Plattsburgh.
Neither Northeastern Clinton nor Chazy Central Rural School shifted completely to distance learning after the December break.
Northeastern's elementary students have continued to receive in-person instruction. Middle school students resumed that mode this week, and high schoolers are set to return to hybrid learning next week.
Chazy Central Rural School fully resumed its hybrid model after the December break. Students are divided into Groups A and B, which alternate between in-person and remote instruction on a week-by-week basis.
Davey emphasized that each school's situation is different and that no "alignment" of response was considered.
"While the Clinton or Essex County Health Department may unilaterally close one or all schools under its jurisdiction, each school’s board of education and superintendent is best positioned to make the decision regarding their school’s mode of instruction."
CV-TEC and CVES Special Education resumed their hybrid and in-person models, respectively, for the week following the holiday break, Davey said.
"As happened across the state, there was an uptick in positive cases, and enough classes were quarantined that, as advised by the Clinton County Health Department, we (CVES) decided to move to remote instruction until Feb. 1."
Davey said he and other CVES staff members are in regular, often daily, communication, including virtual meetings, with both the Clinton and Essex county health departments as well as the superintendents of the 16 component school districts under the CVES umbrella. He also consults with the state Department of Health, the state Education Department and his fellow BOCES district superintendents.
Davey said he couldn't stress enough how valuable the knowledge and advice of local health departments has been, noting Kanoza's and Essex County Director of Public Health Linda Beers' nonstop work with CVES and component school districts since last March.
"The exceptional level of support we have received from them and their CCHD and ECHD staff has been critical in maintaining our instructional programs."
CVES and its component districts are working with the local health departments to assist and support vaccination planning, Davey said, noting that CVES had made its employees aware of their eligibility and where they may get vaccinated.
Asked about recently-discovered strains of the coronavirus found to be more contagious, Davey said schools were following protocols in place since March, including mask-wearing, hand-washing, social distancing, enhanced facility cleaning, screening of students and staff for symptoms, and swift action when a positive case is identified.
"We plan to continue these measures for the foreseeable future."
REMOTE UNTIL MARCH
St. Regis and Tupper Lake Central School Districts are slated to continue with remote learning until March 1.
In a letter to the school community dated Jan. 20, St. Regis CSD Superintendent of Schools Tim Seymour said the decision was made to “to promote educational consistency, to recognize the increased danger of the virus in our community and to expedite efforts to vaccine our staff.”
He left open the possibility that in-person instruction could resume sooner if staff vaccination speeds up or the local COVID-19 positivity rate falls dramatically.
Tupper Lake CSD Superintendent Russ Bartlett posted a video to the district's website Wednesday in which he explained that the main factors considered were whether the small district would have adequate staff in the face of quarantine orders and how best to provide consistency to students.
"It's when we have to shift from in-person to remote, that disruption, they’re finding now, is probably one of the most harmful parts about all of his."
Bartlett posited that March 1 will see the district in a position where most of the employees set to be vaccinated will be vaccinated, and that may impact whether they have to be quarantined if they are exposed to the coronavirus.
"I feel like, when we come back on March 1, we’re here, we’re here for the long run, I don’t see a need to be out again."
He acknowledged how hard remote learning is, but again argued for consistency.
“It really is about what, I think, is the best thing that we can do educationally for the kids and long-term to get where we need to be to make this place happen five days a week,” he said, crossing his fingers, “I hope.”
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