HOOSICK FALLS, N.Y. — The school district here is one of the few across the region to take the precaution of going remote, after about 15 percent of its students were out from illness prior to switching to distance learning Thursday.
With Friday being the start of the Hoosick Falls Central School District spring break, it made sense to switch to remote for the day before vacation, Superintendent Patrick Dailey said Thursday.
He said the district was experiencing a range of illnesses, including COVID-19, nausea, a gut bug, colds and the flu. Affected in substantial numbers were teachers, he said, and finding substitutes was proving difficult.
“It’s just a bad mix of multiple types of sickness coming together at the same time,” Dailey said.
A COVID lull interrupted
COVID-19 had abated somewhat in the district. From February break until about a week ago, the district had a total of five COVID-19 confirmed cases.
“In the last week, we’ve had 10. The true problem we’re facing right now is the pattern. We do not see a pattern as we did in the past,” Dailey said.
With break starting Friday, Patrick was spared from having to make the call to switch to remote on the last day of the week; the vacation will provide students and faculties with a string of back-to-back days to clear any illnesses.
“So that worked out pretty well,” he noted. “Never in the past did we have the opportunity to do something like this. We’re going to take a positive out of what we’ve experienced in the last two years, being able to pivot for a day virtually to stem possible spread of multiple illnesses.”
Patrick said the district did a remote switch such as this once before, about a year ago.
While COVID-19 is not as prevalent as it was, the district continues using COVID safety protocols, including regular cleaning and disinfectant foggers for classrooms, on an as needed basis and at night.
In the Northeast Kingdom
In Vermont, the Glover Community School in the Northeast Kingdom town of Glover closed on Tuesday, according to WCAX, after the school’s kitchen staff were ill and unable to provide meals.
Kindergarten through fourth grade returned Wednesday, and seventh and eighth graders returned Thursday and Friday; fifth and sixth graders were out for the week, the station said.
Like Hoosick Falls, Glover’s staff were hit hard by illness, too, the TV station said. In this case, the school’s cafeteria staff were ill and couldn’t work; a school dance and basketball game there might’ve contributed.
On Tuesday, after he learned of the Glover cluster, Education Secretary Dan French advised schools to make data-based decisions; he noted that some districts are heading into spring break vacation, and that warmer weather — and reduced virus transmission — should reduce the spread of COVID and drop caseloads.
In Bennington County
At Burr and Burton Academy, Headmaster Mark Tashjian said his school is not seeing a major uptick in reported COVID cases. The school has been mask-optional since the end of February, after guidance from the Vermont Agency of Education.
“Everyone is happy to have reached the April break, and we look forward to a productive homestretch to the school year,” said Tashjian, who credited an awareness campaign via a poster in school with helping keep transmission down.
In the Southwest Vermont Supervisory Union, spokesperson Katie West said there were an influx of flu cases at the beginning of April.
“It affected many of our schools, with a lot of student and staff absences at Mount Anthony Union Middle and High Schools,” West said Thursday. Without figures handy, she noted that the caseload seemed to drop as the month went on.
Superintendent Randi Lowe of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union could not be reached for comment by press time.
Other states in New England
In nearby New Hampshire, new legislation prevents Granite State schools from shifting to remote or hybrid learning because of COVID-19 outbreaks. There, a legislative committee and the State Board of Education in February approved the rules that require schools to provide in-person instruction, except in cases of bad weather or when a parent requests it for their child.
In Boston, which has the largest district in New England, remote learning wasn’t allowed this year, the Boston Herald reported. About 920,000 students and 140,000 staff have been participating in some form of in-person learning there, the Herald said.