Capital Region

Staffing shortages pinch Capital Region school districts as officials continue to warn about COVID-19 surge

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File

Some Capital Region school districts will return to school after the long Thanksgiving weekend to buildings closed to in-person instruction after new cases continue to cause staffing challenges in local districts.

North Colonie, Guilderland and Watervliet school districts all announced over the weekend plans to shift at least some students to all-remote education after quarantining staff members created staffing shortages. Guilderland Elementary School, which houses grades K-4, will shift to all-remote learning Monday through Dec. 9. North Colonie plans to have all of its grades 7-12 students learning remotely Monday and Tuesday, also a result of shortages caused by quarantining staff.

“As a result of the number of teachers and staff who are quarantined, all students in grades 7-12 will switch to remote learning for two days,” North Colonie Superintendent Joseph Corr said in a message to the district community Friday.

While public health experts and educators do not think schools are fueling the spread of COVID-19, broader community spread has resulted in a gradual uptick in the number of cases associated with schools. Even when those cases are not resulting in a flood of new positives, though, the number of people asked to quarantine sometimes causes acute staffing problems in a particular school or grade level. District leaders said they are more likely to have to close a school due to staffing shortages than the virus spreading unchecked in a building.

The school closures serve as the latest reminder of the academic disruptions the pandemic continues to cause as caseloads climb across the region – even as educators and public officials emphasize the importance of keeping schools open.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, on Sunday highlighted that the best way to ensure safe schools is to limit broader community spread and said “close the bars and keep the schools open.”

Cuomo also highlighted the importance of keeping schools open – in a press conference shortly after New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio announced plans to gradually reopen the nation’s largest school district next month.

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“We do have new facts and new info on schools and just about every professional says the schools, especially K-8, should be kept open whenever possible to keep them open safely,” Cuomo said during a short press call Sunday. “Where [the schools] are safer than the local community, I think they should be open.”

Cuomo did not mention the staffing shortages that are forcing some schools to close.

Cuomo on Sunday also again highlighted the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the state, as well as the subsequent rise in hospitalizations and deaths, and said he expects infection rates to continue to climb through the holiday season.

The state reported over 6,700 new cases Sunday, with over 4 percent of COVID-19 tests on Saturday returning a positive case, as well as 55 COVID-19 deaths on Saturday, according to new state data released Sunday.

“Call it the surge-upon-surge phase,” Cuomo said.

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