COLONIE — Students in the town’s two public school districts will return to classes today and tomorrow and it will be with some semblance of normalcy outside of the mandatory mask requirements, social distancing, heightened sanitization protocols, better ventilation including open windows and doors, surveillance testing of a sample of students and weekly testing for teachers and faculty who are not vaccinated.
There will be sports and other activities, though, so it will be as close to normal as one can expect in a post-COVID-19 world with the Delta variant now wreaking havoc.
Classes at the South Colonie Central School District will start on Wednesday, Sept. 8 and North Colonie will resume a day later.
Some districts, like Bethlehem, are requiring faculty and staff to get at least the first round of vaccination by the first day of school but both districts in Colonie will only require weekly testing for the unvaccinated.
The state protocols largely follow those recommended by the federal Center for Disease Control. But, unlike a state-wide or regional approach to COVID control taken by former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, his replacement, Gov. Kathy Hochul, will leave it to local district and local health departments to determine how to best implement the CDC recommendations.
Masks, though, for anyone entering a school building are a must across the state. So is social distancing — three feet for those vaccinated and six feet for those who are not. Masks must be worn by students on a bus to and from school and for any indoor extracurricular activity. Some districts, like Bethlehem and Niskayuna, are requiring athletes participating in high risk sports to first get vaccinated but districts in Colonie are only requiring masks for “high risk” sports like football, volleyball and cheerleading.
Both districts will implement a tiered mitigation strategy to provide a safe environment for students which means what is expected of students is directly related to the transmission rates at any particular time.
For example, right now, Albany County is in a red category, or one with a high rate of transmission. There are three lesser transmission categories (see chart) and they include different safety protocols. Through the school year, a district could fluctuate between different categories and expect students and faculty to follow different procedures.
One important part of the strategy is surveillance testing during periods of orange and red stages of transmission. During periods of orange transmission rate, 10 percent of the student population will get tested every week and during red, 20 percent will get tested.
“We know there is a mask mandate and we know there is a mandate to ensure there is testing for the children and surveillance testing, the testing of asymptomatic individuals, can be helpful in early identification of infections and making sure people who are infected stay home and don’t infect others,” said Dr. Elizabeth Whalen, head of the county Health Department.
Both district have a detailed outline of what is expected of students and staff during each of the four different categories of transmission on their respective websites.
“The plan is subject to change and subject to guidance from the Department of Health. This plan is a working document and will evolve as the school year progresses,” said South Colonie Superintendent David Perry. “We understand there is some risk involved with returning to school and activities but we look forward to returning our students to school and we look forward to as normal of a school year as possible including all of our classes and activities being provided.”
Similarly, North Colonie Superintendent Joseph Corr said his district is looking to provide students with a “complete experience” including athletics and other extracurricular activities like clubs and music.
“We are looking at how to maintain health and safety of everyone in the school, both students and staff, and our focus also is on the entire student, the social, emotional and mental health of the student. That is going to be very important, especially early in the days of this school year,” he said. “We realize too the most important thing is to not only come back but stay back and that is the goal to the tiered mitigation strategies.”