Dec 3: Letter from Superintendent McGrath

NOTE: I apologize if you are receiving this twice. I had reports that many elementary parents did not receive it when it was first sent out last evening [Dec. 2]. Some information has been updated since yesterday to reflect the latest information from NYS. I have also attached the promised information sheet.

Hello BH-BL Parents:

When I wrote to you before Thanksgiving, I emphasized our plan to make every possible effort to keep our schools open. I received a great deal of positive feedback to the email. As incidences of COVID-19 continue to rise in our area, our commitment to staying open remains strong.  As of today, we still do not have a single confirmed case of transmission of COVID-19 within our schools.  We are doing well and following all health and safety guidelines carefully.  However, cases all around us are rising and staff and families are dealing with quarantine. If we are going to be able to stay open, we need your partnership in two important areas.

The first area involves screening tests. The region is nearing designation as a “yellow zone.”  Today (12/3/2020) marks the 8th day that Schenectady County has had a 7-day rolling average for positive COVID-19 tests at or above 3%.  It marks the 6th day that Saratoga County has been at or above the 3% mark. Therefore it seems likely that we will soon hit 10 days and be designated a “Yellow (Precautionary) Zone.”

If we want to stay open in the Yellow Zone, we must commit to doing rapid screening tests on 10% of the in-person students and staff in all of our buildings. The rapid test involves a non-invasive cotton swab swiping just inside the lowermost portion of the nostril. These are not the deep-sinus swab tests that are conducted at medical facilities. The test results are available within minutes. Individual test results will only be shared with families, the school nurse, and the local Department of Health. We will randomly choose students from a pool of individuals whose parents have consented to the rapid test.

In order to satisfy the Yellow Zone requirements (and stay open) we will need to test approximately 33 students at each of the elementary schools, 55 students at the middle school, and 75 students at the high school over a two week period. As long as our positive rate does not exceed the counties rate, we are done testing for as long as we are in a designated Yellow Zone. If we move to orange (7-day average rises above 4% for 10 consecutive days) we will need to continue to test new students and staff at a rate of 20% per month. So as you can see, we will likely need to rapid test many individuals if we are going to remain open. With that in mind, we will be asking for your consent to have a school nurse conduct a rapid test on your child if they are randomly selected.  Again, the test is simple, quick, and painless.

Beginning on Monday (12/7) and running through Thursday (12/11), you will see a “testing consent” question added to the daily screening tool that you receive each morning. This request only applied to hybrid students.  We are not required to test fully-virtual students.  By granting consent on this question, you will be allowing the possibility that the screening test may be administered to your child and that the testing data will be shared with the NYS Department of Health. We ask you to please consider allowing your child to be included in the testing pool. More information about the test and the zone designation is attached.  Please feel free to reach out to your child’s school nurse with additional questions as well.

The second important issue involves hybrid students learning from home. A growing number of students are being place on mandatory quarantine by the Department of Health. Many middle and high school students now need to join their classes remotely every day, rather than two-days-in/two-days-out.   Elementary students need to be provided with make-up work to do at home as we prepare for ways that elementary students could “beam in” remotely to their class when absent.  All of this fluidity poses a significant added layer of complexity to the teacher’s lesson design and instruction.

In addition to the quarantining, we are also noticing a trend among our middle and high school students wherein parents are asking to have their students learn from home on their in-person days due to personal health concerns.  While we understand and will accommodate these requests, they too place additional burden on the classroom teacher to adjust course design and lesson planning.

We have an amazing group of teachers supported by an incredible staff. They are all working hard to learn, grow, and adapt to an ever-changing landscape. We have built half days into the schedule specifically to help teachers meet together and plan for these ever changing conditions. I know and sympathize with the fact that these additional half days are inconvenient to parents. There is no question about it.  Our goal is to design and deliver consistently high quality lessons even in these tumultuous circumstances. We can rise to this challenge but it does require flexibility from all of us and the additional planning time afforded by these half days is a part of what is making this whole thing work. We ask for your continued patience and flexibility in this area.

As always, thank you for all that you are doing to help us. We are seeing some encouraging results from first quarter and first trimester report cards that indicate our students continue to make progress despite the pandemic. Of course, we know there are also exceptions and encourage you to reach out to your child’s teacher or principal with specific concerns or suggestions. Let’s hope that this “second wave” is the last big wave and that things begin to return to normal in 2021.  I will continue to update you as the situation develops.