Some Orange County schools have been struggling to change plans in response to the state's new guidance on in-person learning. It comes as districts in the area deal with a COVID-19 spike.
Last month, the CDC changed it's social distance guidelines for students, saying the kids could be three feet apart in schools, instead of six feet. New York's Department of Health recently followed suit, except in communities with a higher transmission risk.
Many districts welcomed the updated guidance, thinking it would mean more students receiving in-person instruction. The Middletown School District, which has been in hybrid learning for the last few months, was preparing to return to full in-person instruction this past Monday.
"We were all set to go,” said Middletown Schools Superintendent Richard Del Moro. “We had everything prepared; we had the barriers in place, and so on and so forth, not only in our classrooms, but also in our eating areas. And then Friday night, it was about 9:40 in the evening, we're getting text messages from my superintendents, colleagues, the CDC. The Department of Health put out a guideline that changed all of that."
What You Need To Know
- The CDC announced in March that students in schools do not have to maintain six feet of social distance--3 feet is sufficient
- The NYS Department of Health issued it's own guidance on Friday echoing that CDC guidance but made exceptions for communities with high risk of COVID-19 transmission
- Orange County is considered high risk with a COVID-19 positivity rate of 6.6 %.
On Friday, the New York State Department of Health issued new guidance reflecting the CDC's move to allow three feet distancing in schools, except in communities with higher risk of COVID transmission.
In Orange County, that means in grades six to 12, students must continue to keep six feet of distance between them. In addition, having physical barriers between desks isn't sufficient.
Orange County is considered high risk with a COVID positivity rate of 6.6%, compared to the state positivity rate of 3.7%. Over the last two weeks, nine students and three teachers tested positive for COVID-19 at Middletown High School.
At Newburgh Free Academy, 25 students and three teachers tested positive.
"I came in and I said that we would remain for the first two or three days all in for six to 12 until we got this all straightened out, and it worked out, and more importantly, informed our parents," said Del Moro.
In Port Jervis, Superintendent Mike Rydell decided to keep students in the current learning model, saying “It is unreasonable for a guidance document with these contents to be sent on a Saturday with the expectation for full implementation on Monday.”
For students at Middletown High School, the disappointment is apparent after they had a brief bout of normalcy in the classroom. Grades six through 12 will be returning to a hybrid learning model on Thursday. Students in grades K through five will continue five days of in-person learning.
"The principal is there and said to me and the children at lunch and breakfast this morning, 'You mean, I can't come every day now,' that breaks my heart to hear that," said Del Moro. He says he will make changes according to if Orange County is no longer a high-risk area.
"Certainly, if, in fact, that I'm able to bring children back because of the infection rate in our Orange County lessens, certainly, I will make that pivot again."