3-foot physical distancing advocacy

Dear Schuylerville families,

This month marks the one-year point from when we pivoted to remote learning in 2020. At the time, none of us imagined our students would be away from campus for six months. However, perseverance prevailed. While we have had temporary pivots to remote learning this school year, there has not been a widespread outbreak resulting in the shutdown of our campus. And now, as vaccinations are on the rise, and the infection rate slows, we look forward to a return to normalcy, even if that normalcy is “new”. 

Today a letter was sent to the New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, on behalf of the 31 Superintendent of Schools in the WSWHE BOCES region, requesting updated guidance for in-person learning. One of the requests is to address the physical distancing requirement, advocating for a reduction from the current six foot rule to a three foot rule. (We are also advocating for the music physical distancing requirement to be reduced from 12 feet to six feet.) School districts would revert back to the six foot rule (12 foot rule for music) should the seven-day rolling average go above 4%. However, a three foot rule would allow for a greater number of students to return to in-person instruction, specifically at the middle and high school levels. 

If the CDC releases guidance for school districts across the country recommending a reduction in physical distancing from six feet to three feet, Schuylerville CSD is still bound by approval from the NYS Education Department (NYSED). Districts would have to decipher and interpret the new guidance, evaluate if the guidance can be executed within their school buildings, and then submit a new reopening plan to NYSED for approval.

Our administrative team continues to evaluate the hybrid and remote learning models, taking into account the region’s infection rate and the number of requests for students to return to campus in-person. Our ultimate goal is to return to 100% in-person learning for all of our students. However, we also recognize that we do not want to jeopardize all of the work that has been done to reopen safely–and remain open safely–this year.  

Currently, middle school and high school fully remote students are being given a final opportunity to enter into the hybrid learning model for the fourth quarter, with a decision needed by Monday, March 22. If students and their families decline, they must remain remote the rest of the year. The first day of return for fully remote students entering the hybrid model will be April 12 or April 13 depending on the student’s last name. 

The next step will be for the middle and high school building principals to systematically begin to bring students back (on a rolling scale) to a five day a week schedule, if the district’s plan is approved by the NYS Education Department. For our district, a potential three foot rule still presents a number of challenges in regard to the COVID-19 health and safety protocols we have in place. 

Some of the challenges at the middle and high school include:

  • The enrollment in certain classrooms would exceed the 3-foot physical distance rule 
  • Cafeteria (can students be unmasked three-feet apart?) (middle school)
  • Space between lockers (middle school)
  • The unknown of what a potential three-foot physical distancing rule means (a requirement of barriers on every desk? Masks? etc.)

These are challenges that we can remedy, but it will take some time. Simply put, if the three foot rule is put into place, we would systematically begin to bring middle and high school students back five days a week this spring, with a goal of a return to full, in-person learning in September. It is a priority for our district to balance the social-emotional and academic needs of our students, while remaining diligent in the health and safety protocols that have kept our schools open this year.

After the April break, there will be 11 weeks of school left. While we continue to see a gradual reopening of our state, a gradual return of extra-curricular activities and athletics, and the opening of spring community, travel and rec youth programs, we must also proceed with caution and monitor the region’s infection rate. At the earliest, our district would not implement any NYS Department of Health updated guidelines until two weeks after the April break. 

We will remain focused on giving our students as many opportunities as we can in a safe manner. We thanked our faculty and staff, and we’d like to thank our families for their flexibility this school year. Without it, returning to in-person learning during a pandemic would not have been possible. 

As always, we will continue to monitor any changes in guidance from the NYS Department of Health, and adjust accordingly for our district. Please reach out with any questions.

Dr. Ryan Sherman

Gregg Barthelmas
COVID-19 Coordinator
Director of Pupil Personnel Services