The Valley Central and Pine Bush Central School Districts announced Friday that they will pause in-person hybrid instruction from Nov. 30 to Jan. 19 in favor of remote learning.
These decisions were made in accordance with Orange County Commissioner of Health Irina Gelman’s advice to halt in-person instruction over the upcoming holiday season.
“We are seeing a substantial increase in cases comparable and possibly exceeding the volume experienced during the first wave of the pandemic,” Gelman said in a memo Thursday sent to all public and private schools in Orange County.
As of Thursday, there had been 15,594 confirmed COVID-19 cases as well as 514 deaths in Orange County. Of those cases, 46 percent were people between the ages of 18 and 44, with the second largest number of confirmed cases in the 45-64 age group (32 percent). Gelman added in her memo that Orange County is currently experiencing a surge in new positive cases. There were well over 1,000 newly confirmed cases two weeks ago. As of Thursday, the county’s 10-day rolling average had increased to 115 new cases.
Four new areas in Orange County have been designated as “Yellow Zones” under the NYS Cluster Initiative: Newburgh, New Windsor, Middletown and Highland Falls.
Gelman recommended that school districts over the upcoming holiday season consider reverting to a remote-only model similar to the collegiate approach or phasing into remote instruction with interim in-person instruction. The college model entails closing schools for in-person classes through Martin Luther King Jr. Day and resuming for remote learning instruction only. The interim/in-person/remote model would allow for two to three weeks of remote instruction after major gatherings during the holiday breaks, prior to resuming in-person activities to address the anticipated spread of the disease that is more likely after all of the holiday social gatherings.
“The current surge in cases in the aftermath of the Halloween parties and social gatherings is a preliminary indicator of the tidal wave of cases expected after the Thanksgiving and winter holiday breaks,” Gelman said in her memo to schools throughout Orange County. “It is reasonable to deduce that families, faculty and school administrators would rather take a proactive, well-coordinated approach now to implement a phased in conversion to remote learning throughout the duration of the holiday season that fits the scope, resources, capabilities of your school district rather than continue the sporadic, unanticipated last minute closure and reopening of schools that does not allow school administrators, instructors, staff and families to plan ahead for such developments.”
Valley Central Superintendent of Schools John Xanthis agreed that it is better to plan ahead as opposed to constantly opening and closing schools.
“This was a very difficult decision that was not made without careful consideration,” he said. “We believe that a short return for one week, during a period of time that the Commissioner of Health is clearly concerned about the increasing spread of COVID-19 will do little to assist with the educational consistency students need and could expose students and staff to an increased risk of quarantine over the winter holidays.”
During the closure, Valley Central teachers and staff will continue to provide online instruction from the school buildings to all students via Google Meets and Google Classroom per the normal schedules. Attendance will be taken on a daily basis and grades will be given.
Pine Bush Acting Superintendent Donna Geidel agreed that closing schools during the holiday season will keep students and staff safer.
“As a district, we are addressing the impact the pandemic is having on our schools and community,” she said. “Going totally remote at this time is a proactive approach by the district to keep our students and staff safe, as well as our greater Pine Bush community.”
All student and teacher daily instructional schedules will stay the same during the closure. Geidel added that the district will watch the trends and evaluate closely. If they feel it is safe to go back to in-person, hybrid learning before Jan. 19, they will.