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Webutuck students won’t step foot onto campus until 2021

 

WEBUTUCK — The recent spate of COVID-19 cases was priority number one for the North East (Webutuck) Central School District Board of Education (BOE) at its meeting on Monday, Dec. 7.

The BOE gathered via videoconference due to the coronavirus pandemic; the meeting is posted on www.webutuckschools.org.

Superintendent of Schools Raymond Castellani was focused on COVID-19 in his report; he said the district was, at the time, planning for a full remote learning model for the coming week. He added it had a number of COVID cases — specifically among its staff at Webutuck Elementary School (WES)  — which resulted in quarantining some classes as well as a number of staff.

“That being said, we just don’t have the staffing to cover as many people as are going out in regards to quarantine,” Castellani said, “whether it will be quarantining from us or the Department of Health or something that was outside of the school district that people are being quarantined for.”

The district’s expectations for reopening at the time were that students in grades fifth through 12th would return to its hybrid model on Thursday, Dec. 10, while students in grades pre-k through fourth would be postponed for another week due to staffing shortages. 

Castellani said they needed to have a conversation as a district, inviting the BOE to gather input whether the district should reopen or continue to teach students remotely. Acknowledging the pros and cons of each move, the superintendent said such factors include parents and students struggling with distance learning; guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Dutchess County Department of Health (DOH) that schools aren’t considered super spreaders; and the number of school districts in Dutchess County that are bouncing between opening and closing their schools due to COVID-19. Castellani added the fair warning given about a potential spike in COVID-19 cases this winter.

“There is no right or wrong answer,” he said. “There’s no answer that everyone is going to be happy with 100%, but I open it to the board for their input in regards to guidance on moving forward with opening school.”

Considering how problematic it’s been to open and close schools during the pandemic and the recent warning about a COVID-19 spike in Dutchess County, BOE member Jay Newman wondered if the more prudent option would be to remain remote until the next semester. 

Weighing her dual roles as a parent and a BOE member, Nikki Johnson spoke of disruption at the elementary school level. She said as since there are so few school days left until Christmas is it worth it to send students back on campus and then pull them right out again? 

Also juggling her roles as a BOE member and the parent of a first-grader, Jessica Deister weighed the challenges of opening and closing schools, while BOE member Chris Mayville said it’s a matter of having enough staff.

Having contracted COVID-19 himself, BOE member Christopher Lounsbury said “kids will adapt to just about anything,” suggesting the board base its decision on whatever offers the best education at this time — remote  or in-person teaching. 

BOE member Rick Keller-Coffey inquired about students returning to class in certain grades. Castellani said students in pre-k through fourth grade would return Friday, Dec. 18, and spend four days in school before the holiday break. Keller-Coffey said how tough going back and forth between opening and closing can be. He said it would be great for middle and high school students to revert to hybrid.

“Having listened, I think obviously we’re all on the same page… there’s no great answer,” BOE President Judy Moran said, adding community spread of COVID-19 seems  greater than the spread within the school district, so students technically could be more at risk out of school than in school. She suggested the district remain closed until at least January.

Castellani also recommended students remain off campus until after the end of Christmas vacation, on Monday, Jan. 4. Hopefully during that time, he said, the district will get more guidance from the CDC and the DOH. The BOE also agreed the district will continue to teach remotely until the winter break begins on Christmas Eve, Thursday, Dec. 24.

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