SCHENECTADY — The Schenectady City school district will go to all-remote learning starting Monday and continuing through at least Jan. 8, district officials announced, as the local spread of COVID-19 takes a toll on staff and students.
The period includes the Christmas-New Year holiday break that begins Dec. 24 and ends on Jan. 3, but when school is in session, it doesn’t have sufficient staff — due to COVID cases and quarantines — to operate in-person schooling.
Secondary school students have been learning remotely by computer since the beginning of the school year, but until now elementary-age students have been attending school in person. Starting Monday, elementary students will be expected to sign in to their online classroom at the school start time each day.
“We are making this temporary shift to online learning, in large part, due to the impact that COVID-19 is having on our staff that directly serves students,” district officials wrote in an alert to parents on Friday. “Today alone we have 89 staff members, who serve students, out for COVID-related reasons.”
There are also 140 students who have already been transitioned to remote learning because of COVID-related matters, such as a COVID-positive family member.
During the remote learning period, the district will distribute meals to students who would normally eat at school. Details of that plan are expected to come out on Monday.
The shift comes as the illness caused by the novel coronavirus is spreading locally at the highest rate of the entire pandemic, and a number of other school districts around the region have also transitioned to the kind of remote learning that first became prevalent last spring.
There is also widespread concern that family and private gatherings over the upcoming holidays will lead to more spread, as Thanksgiving seems to have done.
On Saturday, the state said that 109 new COVID cases were reported from Schenectady County on Friday. The county’s daily increase has exceeded 100 several times in the last two weeks — higher than it ever was when the pandemic began last spring. Schenectady County’s five-day average positivity rate was 8.6 percent, the highest of any Capital Region county.
While Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and public health officials have said schools in general don’t seem to be causing COVID transmission, Schenectady district officials said the spread in the community is impacting its adult staff.
“While our district’s overall COVID-19 positivity rate remains low, each new positive case in our school community can have a significant impact on staffing due to required testing and quarantine requirements,” the district statement said. “Currently, we are not able to make the necessary staffing adjustments on a day-to-day basis to continue in-person instruction.”
District officials said they hope to be able to return to in-person learning the week of Jan. 11, but the remote learning mandate could be extended. “We understand the importance of in-person learning and are committed to bringing students and teachers back in school as soon as possible,” the district said.
The remote learning program at the middle school and high school, which the district initiated because of anticipated multi-million-dollar state aid cuts, has had mixed results and unique challenges. The Gazette reported earlier this month that nearly 100 students have attended only a handful of remote school days, or none at all.