Amsterdam schools go virtual until after holiday break

Amsterdam High School is pictured earlier this year. (Gazette file photo)
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Amsterdam High School is pictured earlier this year. (Gazette file photo)

Categories: -The Daily Gazette, Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News

Greater Amsterdam School District students won’t return to school for in-person learning until Jan. 4 at the earliest after district officials on Sunday announced they were shifting students to online learning until after the holiday break.

Officials cited rising COVID-19 cases in Amsterdam and across Montgomery County and said the decision was made jointly with the Montgomery County health department.

Amsterdam Superintendent Richard Ruberti in an interview Sunday said more than 50 district staff members were in quarantine as of this weekend, complicating the district’s ability to operate schools for in-person instruction.

District and county officials met Sunday and made the decision together, according to an announcement the district posted Sunday to its website. The announcement said Montgomery County has recorded 70 new COVID-19 cases since Friday, and the county’s seven-day rolling average of positive tests was at 8 percent and growing.

District officials highlighted that schools have not been identified as contributing to the virus’ spread but that broader cases in the community were causing staffing challenges.

“The reality is we are not spreading cases in the schools,” Ruberti said. “It’s a matter of the number of quarantines we’ve had.”

Ruberti said the decision to extend the all-virtual break through the holiday break also enables families to plan without responding to day-to-day changes, as they have had to throughout the school year.

“We are trying to keep the schools open, but it’s hard for families to plan when we go day-by-day,” Ruberti said.

As caseloads have climbed around the Capital Region, health departments have faced growing backlogs of people to trace for potential exposure, forcing some districts to ask students and staff to stay home even before health officials can make a formal request for a quarantine. Ruberti also said the amount of time it takes to receive test results for staff in quarantine has increased in recent weeks.

“We have taken it upon ourselves as a district to quarantine students and staff without Montgomery County,” Ruberti said.

Ruberti said the district should be ready to transition to a fully-virtual model. While the district is still waiting for the delivery of a 700-device computer order, officials were able to purchase over 100 computers directly from the Gloversville school district.

District officials in the message to families also warned that more closures could be possible as the year continues.

“Please remember that moves like these may become necessary at any time if a significant number of GASD faculty are placed in mandatory quarantine, and a staffing shortage requires that we temporarily shift a class, school building or the entire district to a fully remote model,” according to the district message.

Districts across the region are grappling with similar challenges keeping schools staffed as COVID-19 cases continue to lead to staff who have to quarantine.

The Northville school district last weekend announced it will close to in-person instruction until mid-January, with Superintendent Leslie Ford citing staffing challenges and the rising caseload as leading to the decision.

North Colonie, Guilderland and Niskayuna school districts will all return to school Monday with at least some students unable to attend school for in-person instruction. In Niskayuna, all high school students are set to learn remotely Monday as county health officials continue to contact-trace positive cases, waiting on Monday for word about whether in-person school will resume Tuesday.

North Colonie’s students are learning remotely through Dec. 17, while Guilderland’s secondary students are set to learn all-virtually until at least Dec. 16.

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