Some school districts to resume in-person classes; Seven-day region positivity rate tops 10 percent

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Some school districts across the Capital Region are set to resume in-person instruction Monday, while others will still have students learning remotely as the COVID-19 cases in the region continued to strain local hospital capacity.

The holiday break ends for students and educators Monday, but a school year full of disruptions and uncertainty is set to continue apace. Some districts plan to resume in-person instruction after finishing the final days before the school break remotely. But other districts in recent days announced plans to continue at least some fully-remote instruction for students who have chosen to receive in-person instruction.

Most districts, though, are warning families about rising infection rates and the possibility that students will have to shift back to remote instruction at a moment’s notice.

The return to school comes as the Capital Region’s seven-day COVID-19 test positivity rate continues to increase – climbing to over 10 percent as of Sunday – and the region’s hospital capacity continues to fall. Schenectady, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties all registered over 100 new cases in the state’s latest data, and Albany County topped 200 new cases over the weekend.

The region’s hospital capacity indicators also reached concerning levels: about 23 percent of the Capital Region’s overall hospital bed capacity was available, according to state data updated Sunday, while just 17 percent of the region’s intensive care unit beds were available, the lowest ICU capacity in the state.

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The latest infection data was troubling enough that Albany County Executive Dan McCoy on Saturday morning suggested schools in the county should close to in-person instruction before clarifying later in the day that the decision was up to local district leaders. On Sunday, McCoy reported the county had reached a new record level of COVID-19 patients in intensive care.

The landscape for students remains mixed across the region.

Amsterdam, Saratoga Springs, Galway, Fort Plain and other districts around the region outlined plans to resume in-person instruction at all schools Monday. Other districts, though, still planned to keep all students learning remotely for the time being or were forced to keep at least one building closed when students return to school.

Schenectady students are not scheduled to return to in-person instruction until Jan. 11 at the earliest.

Niskayuna plans to resume in-person instruction at all district schools Monday except the high school, district officials announced Sunday, citing staffing shortages there.

“As we enter the next part of the school year, our goal remains to continue with in-person learning to the greatest extent possible,” Niskayuna Superintendent Cosimo Tangorra Jr. said in a message posted to the district website Sunday. “We do know that some disruptions to this, such as this week at the high school, can be expected.”

Ballston Spa Superintendent Ken Slentz in a Dec. 30 message cited nine new cases in the district, focused primarily at the high school level, and announced students in grades 6-12 would continue remote instruction through Jan. 8.

“Needless to say, this not at all what we want to see, but it is not terribly surprising either given what we learned from the Thanksgiving holiday and associated gatherings,” Slentz wrote in the message.

While the majority of districts in the region appeared set to resume in-person instruction Monday, district leaders still urged caution, reminding parents and students that plans can always change.

“We do plan for students to return to in-person learning on Monday, Jan. 4, but a pivot to remote learning could happen any day thereafter depending on the continued infection rate,” Schuylerville Superintendent Ryan Sherman said in a Jan. 2 message to district families. “Families should be ready for a shift to a temporary model of remote instruction.”

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