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Another school year begins under COVID restrictions

The Millerton News Editorial

Schools throughout the Harlem Valley and the rest of New York State are preparing to open their doors next week for yet another year of teaching during the coronavirus pandemic. It can’t be easy for anyone — students; their parents; the teachers, various school staff and administrators; their health care providers; or anyone else with a vested stake in how the 2021-22 academic year will turn out. 

It seems like we have all become fairly well accustomed to dealing with life’s routines and priorities — with education ranking high on the list — while learning to battle COVID-19 as best we can. No question there have been many challenges along the way.

Our school districts and their Boards of Eduction (BOEs) have debated for countless hours how to ensure all who enter their campuses will be kept safe and healthy. They’ve also sweated the details over whether to bring students back in person or return to remote learning. 

All three of the districts this paper covers regularly have come to the same decision. The North East (Webutuck) Central School District, the Pine Plains Central School District and the Millbrook Central School District announced this summer their priority is to bring students back for in-person learning when classes begin after the Labor Day holiday.

We understand their ardor for doing so, especially after such a tumultuous teaching cycle last year. It bears repeating, though, what a valiant job teachers did with remote instruction throughout 2020-21, considering all of the challenges they were thrown due to the pandemic. 

However, there are sure to be new challenges come the 2021-22 school year as COVID cases are still rising in many parts of the country, including here in the Hudson Valley. The difficulties will be compounded as the highly contagious delta variant continues to rear its ugly head. 

On Thursday, Aug. 26, just north of Dutchess County, Columbia County Department of Health (DOH) Director Jack Mabb reported that 23 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded among its residents, which Mabb said was “the most we’ve had in a long time.”

As of midday on Aug. 27, Mabb reported another eight new coronavirus infections. 

Also on the 26th, the Dutchess County COVID-19 Community Impact Dashboard had recorded 782 new cases being monitored by the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health (DBCH) since the pandemic began, with a 4.49% infection rate county wide on a seven-day rolling average (based on 864,647 completed tests). As of that day, 41 individuals were hospitalized with confirmed COVID cases in the three county hospitals and 464 deaths had been reported due to or related to COVID-19 in Dutchess County, as reported by the New York State DOH.

These numbers can’t be reassuring for parents sending their most precious cargo off to school trusting they will return in the same condition. 

It must be especially unnerving for parents of students venturing off on those bright yellow buses for the very first time. Consider parents of nervous little kindergartners about to start school for the very first time. 

Other parents are just as likely to be anxious and distraught, like those of young Lilliana, who is featured in Kaitlin Lyle’s Reporter Notebook on this week’s front page. Lilliana spent kindergarten in her living room last year as she was taught remotely along with her classmates. She will be starting first grade as a complete stranger to Webutuck Elementary School and being taught in a classroom. 

It’s natural for school parents to be edgy. While their children are supposed to be focused on learning math, science and history, not to mention art, health and athletics, they will instead be worried — along with their parents and the entire school community — about staying virus free. 

What that will entail throughout the year as virus numbers rise and fall, as DOH recommendations come and go and as school guidelines adapt to what is needed to protect their student bodies, we will have to wait and see. There is little doubt, though, that parents — and their children — will feel the stress as all of those entities contemplate how to best make those lifesaving decisions.

To that, all we can say is hang in there. Everyone involved is clearly doing their best — from the school district personnel and their BOEs to the health officials to parents themselves to the general members of our communities. 

Remember, eventually, we will come out of this. If the health guidance is followed, the pandemic will wane. In the meantime, we hope your families stay safe and your children have a healthy, productive and successful school year.

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