Solid details have emerged from months-long efforts as the Red Hook Central School District announced Aug. 17 a fully remote return to school through mid-October because of COVID-19.

Parent meetings were held last week to outline the changes, as well as provide extensive details on schedules for all school levels and what procedures will be in place when students do return to the classroom. Schools officially start on Sept. 11.

The decision was revealed by the school administration and voted in by the Board of Education as concerns mounted amid plenty of guidelines.

Though the district formed a reopening committee back in April, district staff received no official guidance until July 17, when information came in from the New York State Department of Health, the New York State Education Department, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The information was detailed, and at times contradictory and hard to understand, said RHCSD Asst. Superintendent for Business Bruce Martin during a parent meeting Aug. 20.

RHCSD submitted a preliminary plan to the state’s Education Department and Department of Health on July 31, kicking off quite a process.

After additional requirements for contact tracing, testing, and remote learning options were announced Aug. 7 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, RHCSD administrators developed and submitted a more detailed plan on Aug. 14.

Three days later, the district announced a plan to open 100% remotely or the first five weeks of school, with the goal to get to a hybrid option, of in-class and remote learning, by Oct. 13.

“It’d be great if we could do something before that, but I think we need to really ensure all of these procedures and protocols,” said Superintendent Janet Warden. “These are difficult decisions that affect people differently. My goal first is health and safety.”

The lack of rapid testing played a major role in the district’s decision, as did the lack of free testing for students who may not have health care options.

“We realized there was definitely a lack of rapid testing in the area,” Warden said. “We’re working with Pulse-MD to get preferred testing for our staff and students, and trying to work on how to deal with any students who don’t have health care.”

“We’re still in the phase of working with that group. That’s one of the major things we felt we needed, otherwise it would’ve disrupted learning, she added”

By Aug. 17, 30% of parents were requesting the remote-only option, which signaled a growing concern among parents.

Alyson Handelman, a parent of a fifth-grader, attended one of the three Zoom meetings held for parents.

“I was reminded and comforted by how much the people making the decisions care about our kids,” said Handelman. “The only thing I am unclear on is what factors will be involved in the decision whether to reopen for hybrid learning in October.”

Other community members felt school reopening decisions should include a broader audience.

“Any outbreaks will affect the entire community,” said Teresa Hughes, who has no kids attending the school district. “These are not easy decisions, but it’s important that we have all the information when making tough calls for our children, our families, and our communities.”

Parent concern followed a growing list of staffing issues after faculty meetings held Aug. 10 through Aug. 12 revealed an uptick in staff members requesting leaves of absence.

“Naturally many teachers have mixed emotions about returning to the in-building setting for teaching and learning,” said Nancy Keeney, President of the Red Hook Faculty Association. “While teachers universally believe that the best instruction happens in person, the current understanding of how the novel coronavirus spreads in the air makes group gatherings potentially problematic, especially older buildings with older ventilation systems. The situation is terribly complicated and our goal is health and safety for everyone, as is the district’s.”

The district also felt the pressure of creating essentially three schedules at once: the hybrid schedule with 50% of students coming in, the remote learning option, and a plan that encompassed both.

“I really feel our re-entry team did a great job of analyzing the Department of Health, CDC and New York State documents and coming up with mask protocols and cleaning protocols,” Warden said. 

“I think everybody wants their kids back in school, and that’s our goal too, but I think people are understanding the amount of decisions and procedures that need to be put in place. I thank the community for their support and understanding,” she said.

Specific information on how the district will move forward and what reopening will look like can be found in the videos on the district’s website:

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