The Onteora School District has has extended full-time remote learning until February 1 amid changing Covid protocols and staffing difficulties caused by vaccinations.
The Ulster County Health Department plans to scrap its current metric that calls for a district building closure when three percent of the in-percent population including staff tests positive for Covid. Instead, county officials will use micro-cluster zones designated when an area has a nine percent positivity rate over a seven-day rolling average.
As of January 15, 22 students and four teachers and staff are positive, according to the state’s Covid-19 Report Card that tracks the pandemic through schools. The totals are eleven students and one teacher/staff at the high school, four students and one teacher/staff at the middle school, four students and one teacher/staff at Phoenicia Elementary, one student at Bennett Elementary and two students and one teacher/staff at Woodstock Elementary.
“The other very new factor that impacts our day-to-day operations is the start of the vaccination initiative for staff,” superintendent Victoria McLaren said. “Originally, we were told that we would be working directly with the Ulster County deputy executive and we would coordinate the scheduling of staff vaccinations as a cohort of school districts. So it was a complete surprise to all of us on Sunday when the state released the link and encouraged everyone to schedule their appointments for this week, starting today through the 16th.”
Though she was in favor of staff vaccinations, she told the January 12 board of education meeting that the rollout had been “incredibly haphazard.”
Honoring the commitment to get as much of the staff vaccinated as possible while returning to in-person learning “will lead to having even more gaps in our ability to supervise and provide continuity instruction,” she explained. Out of necessity, many vaccination appointments will be during school hours.
“Until we have the plan for the coming weeks and understand how many staff will be required to leave during the day — because the appointments that were set up were not necessarily outside of the workday — it is impossible to know how we can safely reopen,” she said.
The vaccination schedule is another reason to remain on remote learning. “During the time between now and then, we will be able to work with our employees to ensure that we will have coverage during the school day for those students that are returning to in-person learning.”