Dear Gardner-Dickinson Families,
I am excited to officially welcome you back to school as we kick off the 2021-22 school year. The children are back and settling in nicely, still with smiles on their faces (under those masks, of course).
Once again, we are opening another year in the middle of a pandemic that we had hoped would have subsided by now, which is not making it easy for students or staff. We have had to be very creative and flexible while remaining diligent in our efforts to keep the safety of our students at the forefront. We want to protect our school community from the COVID-19 virus, but also want our students to have as many of the freedoms they have missed over the last year as possible.
An example of this is movement throughout the building. Students remained in their classrooms last year, leaving but once a day to get a fresh air walk, and never mixing cohorts. This year, we are trying to be a bit more flexible and not have students remain in cohorts all day long. We allow students to eat their lunches in the cafeteria and to move to all of their special area classes. Middle School students are also moving from class to class, and not cohorting as well. We are sanitizing desks and hands frequently, and no matter where the location is within the school, students always remain 6-feet apart. We have extended recess periods for all middle school students, giving all students the opportunity to eat and socialize outside with their entire grade level for 45 minutes each day – they are very happy about this.
Unfortunately, during our first full week of school, we did have a student test positive on one of our bus runs, which resulted in the quarantining of 11 students. The CDC and NYSDOH are allowing buses to be at normal capacity in order to bring all students back to in-person learning five days per week. In our case, that means we are seating two students in every seat. This works well until there is a positive student on the bus. The NYSDOH is directing us to quarantine students within a large radius around the child, which can result in quarantining 10-20 students (depending on where the child is sitting).
We understand that quarantining your child is stressful and burdensome for families, and we will support you as best as we can. If your child is under a quarantine issued by the RCDOH, they will be instructed to work remotely, with their teacher(s) guiding them each day while they are out. Please note that if your child is in middle school and has been fully vaccinated, they will not be placed in quarantine should they have an exposure on the bus or in school, as long as they are asymptomatic.
Many of you are helping to reduce the number of students on buses by driving your children to school – thank you! We appreciate your efforts and patience as we work out a drop-off and pick-up schedule that accommodates the flow of traffic but does not take time out of the instructional day. While following the COVID protocols and guidance has presented many challenges, we are committed to making safety our number one priority. At the same time, we are striving to strike a balance between safety and the academic, social and emotional well-being of our students.
According to a recent letter by NYSDOH Commissioner Howard A. Zucker, all P-12 schools will be required to “Offer screening testing for students (obtain parent or guardian consent for minors, and where otherwise required pursuant to school policy): P-12 schools are required to offer screening testing to unvaccinated students on a weekly basis in geographic areas identified by the CDC as having moderate, substantial, or high transmission rates.” Additionally, unvaccinated staff members will be required to be tested each week. See the full document here:
Our district is working closely with the Rensselaer County Department of Health to develop a surveillance COVID testing initiative as directed by the NYSDOH. The tests have been back-ordered but are expected to be here in upcoming weeks. This testing requires parent consent, so expect to see more information with permission slips coming home from Nurse Gibbs in the next day or so. To see the full interim guidance issued by the NYSDOH for the 2021-2022 school year, visit: https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2021/09/school-guidance.pdf
We need to be reminded of the incredible strength we showed throughout last year, which carried us through 180 days of in-person learning without a building shutdown. This is an amazing accomplishment and we can and will do it again.
Thank you and please reach out should you have any questions or concerns.
Dr. Mary Yodis
Wynantskill UFSD Superintendent