COLONIE — In years’ past, as parents rush children out the door to catch the school bus, questions include “do you have your homework,” “don’t forget your lunch,” and/or “do you have practice tonight.”
This year, though, as schools open their campuses for the first time since March, morning routines are supposed to include a temperature check and the questions are as much about health and wellness as about reading and writing.
North and South Colonie school districts began on campus, in person schooling on Monday, Sept. 14 in what is a most unique year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everyone has been very positive and very welcoming. There are a lot of smiles this morning,” said Deborah Thomas, the school psychologist at Sand Creek Middle School, who was in the parking lot along with other teachers and staffers welcoming students back to school. “It went very smooth and we are excited for the school year. I would say people are happy to be back. We had our signs, we were ready for them, we are ready to be back and I think they are ready to be back too.”
There is always a degree of uncertainty associated with the first day of school and this year it is, safe to say, more pronounced. Last month, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo said schools could open for in person learning this year, it was with the caveat that the infection rate in any given region stays below 5 percent. Outside of that statewide requirement, he largely left what schools would look like up to the individual districts.
North and South Colonie have a mix of in person and virtual learning plans with a plan on standby should the eight-county Capital District region — Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Columbia, Greene, Warren and Washington counties — see its infection rate jump to more than the 5 percent benchmark. As of Monday the Capital District region had an infection rate of 1 percent. Statewide it has hovered around 1 percent for the last month.
North and South Colonie each have a variation of on-campus and virtual learning with parents having the choice to opt out of any or any and all in-person schooling for an undetermined amount of time. In both districts, younger students will attend school every day while those older are on a rotating, hybrid model with some days at home and some days on campus.
As of Monday, in North Colonie, there were 1,419 students who opted for all virtual and 4,530 who will either go fulltime in-person or participate in a hybrid model. In South Colonie, about 22 percent of the approximately 4,800 students opted out of all in-person learning and will attend school 100 percent virtually.
Colleges allowed students back to campus over the last month and many have seen drastic spikes in positive cases. According to the state, if a college campus has more than 100 cases, it must shut down in-person classes and go 100 percent online. Outside of the regional 5 percent infection rate, local school districts do not have a cut and dry number to stay below.
“We are ready to start fresh and start a new year with hope that we will continue to grow as a community and come together to support one another during these times,” said Joseph Corr, superintendent of the North Colonie School District. “As we start this new year, it is our number one goal to make sure all students feel safe and supported as they enter our halls again for the first time in many months.”
“We are excited to welcome out students back. This year is destined to be different than any other you have experienced and I am confident our shared experience will be meaningful for all students,” said Dr. David Perry, superintendent of the South Colonie School District. “We are all in this together and our commitment to safety and flexibility is essential as we open out schools safely.”
While Cuomo did leave the specifics up to each district, the state did have to approve the re-opening plans by each district.
Basically, each district had to have a mask policy in place, adequate plans for the daily screening of students and faculty, plans to accommodate students at social distances, transportation and sanitization protocols and plans to deal with positive cases as it relates to quarantine contact tracing.
For an extensive explanation of each district’s re-opening plans, visit their respective websites.