by Questar III District Superintendent Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
Since September, our students, parents, and school staff have worked hard to keep each other safe and our schools open for in-person instruction.
We have entered a dangerous and uncertain time as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the state and country. Locally, the eight counties that make up the Capital Region recently reported the region’s highest tally of daily new cases since the start of the pandemic.
We continue to meet with superintendents in Columbia, Greene, and Rensselaer counties twice a week and with our county health departments weekly to discuss these developments and ways we can continue to keep our buildings safely open. It is concerning to hear of the ways COVID-19 is spreading. This includes parties (i.e., holidays, birthday, gender reveal, baby showers), family gatherings outside of the household, social gatherings with friends, and interstate competitions.
We also learned that some individuals are not being cooperative or truthful when contacted by the county. This is a good time to remind everyone that we encourage you to offer your full cooperation if you are contacted by a representative of the local health department or school. Your cooperation and transparency will help expediate the process to identify those who must quarantine or be tested as well as our efforts to communicate with impacted families and the larger community.
If you or someone in your family is directed to quarantine, please respect what you are being asked to do in the interest of public health. Quarantine is used to keep someone who might have been exposed to COVID-19 away from others to stop the spread. People in quarantine need to stay home, separate themselves from others, monitor their health, and follow directions from the local health department.
Please continue to follow all safety guidelines outside of school hours, including proper use of face coverings, social distancing, handwashing, avoiding gatherings and travel to states with high positivity rates, and keeping your child home if they are sick. We also remind you to complete the daily health screening form for your child prior to sending them to school.
As we look ahead to Hannukah, Christmas and New Year’s Day, we ask for your help in making sure everyone celebrates and observes this year’s activities in a different way that puts health and safety first. According to the CDC, the safest way to celebrate this year is to celebrate only with people living in your household. Please consider virtual gatherings or other activities that reduce your risk. Traveling, sharing food, and attending indoor gatherings outside your household increases your risk – and the risk of spreading COVID-19 within our schools.
If the virus continues to spread in our region and we are identified by the state as a yellow, orange or red micro-cluster, the state will require districts and the BOCES to test students and staff in order to keep schools open. While we are also prepared for the possibility of a shift to remote learning in the future, we ask for your continued partnership so that we can avoid this.
Ultimately, how well we continue to follow the COVID-19 protocols individually and collectively will determine whether we can continue to keep our school buildings open. Circumstances may change, and we will remain flexible and adaptive in responding to these developments – whether by classroom, grade level, building, BOCES, region, or larger area – or whether it is today or in the weeks to come.
While the initial reports on vaccines look promising, they may not be available to us until later this spring. As a result, we need to prepare ourselves mentally for a long winter ahead. This includes staying informed, being prepared, living like we are already contagious, shrinking our social bubbles, connecting with others virtually, and keeping our guards up.
We know that you have all made many sacrifices the past eight months and for that we sincerely thank you. We ask that you please do your part to continue to contain this virus so that we can keep our schools open. These vaccines offer great hope – we just need to remain vigilant in controlling the spread of COVID-19 until they are available. Thank you for your continued cooperation, support, and patience.
This column appeared in the Register Star and Daily Mail newspapers.