After two days of remote learning due to staff shortages on Monday and Tuesday, New Paltz High School students reported to in-person school for the first time this week on Wednesday, January 12 only to be sent home due to a reported gas odor.
As local school districts grapple with trying to remain safely open during a COVID-19 surge, New Paltz school officials were forced to deal with an issue unrelated to the pandemic. Students were transported to Lenape Elementary School before being dismissed at 9:40 a.m. and remote instruction was not in place.
“The source of the odor has been shut down,” read a notice on the official district website on Wednesday morning. “We have been advised that additional time is required to address the issue so we have made the decision to dismiss students.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Superintendent Angela Urbina-Medina said that the timing was particularly difficult given students were already arriving on campus after two days of remote learning.
“We feel every bump in the road differently because of where we are at this moment,” she said. “There is never a good time for a crisis. We were just having students return and then we had the gas leak issue. The safety and security of our students and staff is a priority (in the) pandemic. It was necessary to close so that the system could be checked thoroughly.”
Neighboring school districts have also faced COVID-related closures this week, with the Saugerties Central School District’s Jr. and Sr. High School campus closed for the week, and all of the Onteora Central School District also shifting to remote learning until Tuesday, January 18; schools are closed on Monday, January 17 for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
On Wednesday, Urbina-Medina said she hopes New Paltz schools will be able to remain open.
“Shifting to remote is a last resort, but at this moment I am grateful that the option exists,” she said. “The goal is for in-person instruction to take place in all of our buildings this school year. However, we have been impacted by the surge in cases making staffing a challenge every day. Some days the pieces fall into place, but that was not the case in the high school this week.”
While the suddenness of Wednesday’s closure meant high schoolers simply had the day off, those students did have remote learning on Monday and Tuesday when school was closed due to staff shortages. Urbina-Medina said the high school is better equipped to jump to remote learning because it doesn’t have the same impact on the average family.
“Of course our secondary students are more independent and as a result, better able to navigate an abrupt shift to remote without the disruption being felt throughout the household,” she said. “We are all mindful of the needs of all of our students and don’t take for granted that because some of our students are older that they weather remote easier. The impact of prolonged remote instruction was felt on all levels last year. The situations are handled on a case-by-case basis.”
Ulster County set another new record for COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, January 11, with 6,144 reported active cases. Some experts predict the peak will end sometime this month as the highly infectious omicron variant effectively begins to burn itself out. School officials like those in New Paltz are hoping to keep their students, staff and communities safe until that happens, ideally sooner than later.
“That is my hope, but no one knows for sure,” Urbina-Medina said. “Part of my daily routine includes looking at the Ulster County COVID Dashboard. This has been such an unpredictable situation for all of us. I would welcome a more predictable rest of the school year.”