Superintendent Letter: No Plans to Shift to Fully Remote Learning

Dear BH-BL Families, Staff, & Community,

I would like to take this opportunity to address some misinformation that has been circulating throughout the community in recent days and to update you on the district’s COVID-19 response plans. First of all, I want to clearly and definitively state that BH-BL currently has no plans to move its in-person/hybrid learning models to a fully remote environment for the holiday season or for any extended length of time.

There have been several media reports lately of school districts throughout New York shifting to fully remote learning through the upcoming holiday season. Additionally, remote learning as a strategy to deal with potential mid-year state aid cuts was also theoretically discussed at a recent Budget Advisory Committee meeting. It’s possible the media reports and these theoretical discussions have fueled speculation that BH-BL will make a similar decision in the near future. We have no such plans.

The only reasons BH-BL would make a shift to fully remote learning are:

  • IF our region is directed to do so by Governor Andrew Cuomo or the Department of Public Health based upon micro-cluster data (see below); OR
  • IF a significant number of BH-BL faculty are placed in mandatory quarantine which could disrupt the learning environment thus possibly forcing the district to temporarily shift a class or school building to a fully remote setting; OR
  • IF the community decides, through action of the Board of Education, that planned remote learning will be implemented as a cost-saving strategy if the district is placed in a dire financial situation. (This is a last-resort option and is only mentioned here because several other local districts have been forced into this situation based on finances. This would never come as a surprise to our families and would be discussed and debated publicly before any decision on something like this would occur.)

We are striving to keep our schools open and continue educating our students in person during the pandemic. Our faculty, staff, students, and parents have shown great commitment to this as well by adhering to our health and safety protocols and performing daily screenings prior to entering our school buildings. We are following all quarantining procedures on a case-by-case basis. We will continue along this path and incorporate new guidance from the state into our daily routines. As a result of our collective efforts, we are happy to report that we have not yet seen any evidence of spread of COVID-19 within our schools.  This could change of course, but it is worth noting now that we are 10 weeks into school.

New Guidelines for School Response as Cases Show Uptick

All indications from New York State are that a mandated closure will not “sneak up on us” but rather we will be able to see it coming by following testing data. There are two important sources of information easily accessible by the public. The first is the state’s COVID-19 Dashboard which records the 7-day rolling average of the percentage of positive COVID-19 test results by county or by region. This site is updated every day. As of Nov. 17, the Capital Region sits at 2 percent. More importantly are our local counties: Schenectady County is also at 2 percent and Saratoga County is at 1.9 percent.

The second important document is the State’s Micro-clusters Metrics Table. This table describes the testing and confirmed case levels necessary to move a region or county into a Yellow (precautionary) zone, an Orange (warning) zone, or a Red (micro-cluster) zone. (Please note that our counties fall in the Tier 2 Geographic Area.)

Using these two documents, residents will be able to see if our area is moving into a designated zone. At this time, our counties have no specific designation. Given recent testing trends, it is possible that we may move into a yellow zone in the coming weeks.  Based on the state’s metrics, Saratoga and Schenectady Counties would become “yellow zones” if their seven-day rolling average positivity is above 3 percent for 10 days AND the counties have 12 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a 7-day average.

IF our geographical region is designated as “yellow zone,”  it would NOT mean that school would close. However, it would lead us to put some additional monitoring in place.  According to this week’s directive from the NYS Department of Health, schools entering the yellow zone would be required to “pool test” a 20 percent sample of in-person students and staff for COVID-19 over a two-week period. As long as we did that and our cases were at or below the “yellow” threshold, our in-person schooling would remain open. If the region moved into an orange or red zone, schools would be ordered to be remote only.

The district’s COVID-19 Coordinator, Sharon McTygue, and other school officials are currently gathering data and working with our local health departments to coordinate group testing. We are encouraged to see that this screening test is relatively simple to administer and at this time, we are confident that we can do it with little disruption to our daily operations. More information will be forthcoming should our region move into the “yellow zone.”

Finally, as you know, this is an ever-changing situation. It is possible that an individual case or set of circumstances could force us into a temporary pivot to remote learning in a building or even in a specific classroom. It is important to stay connected to your email and our website. We will keep you informed each step of the way.  All parents and staff will be informed of any positive case in their child’s school building through an immediate email from the principal. All district cases are catalogued on the website and the information is accessible through the link in the gold COVID-19 banner at the top of every page.

Thank you for all you are doing as we continue to work through this together. Please let me know if you have any specific questions.

Superintendent of Schools Patrick M. McGrath Jr., Ph.D.