Expanding on our temporary shift to distance learning

Portrait of Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams

Dear Families: 

I would like to take an opportunity to share some additional information regarding the City School District of Albany’s difficult decision to shift to distance learning temporarily due to the impact of the explosive surge in COVID-19.

We know that attending school in-person is what is best for students. It is where we want all of our students to be every day. 

We knew that before the pandemic began almost two years ago, and it has been reinforced almost daily since. The academic and social-emotional challenges that have developed or deepened for young people locally, nationally and around the world are significant. 

In school, building caring relationships with teachers, administrators and support staff, is where students need to be. We also know that is what is best for our families as we all balance work and personal lives.  

We made the decision to shift to distance learning through next week in consultation with our district medical director and the Albany County Health Department. Since we made the announcement Wednesday afternoon, many of our families have reached out to let us know the hardship this causes. 

Please know that we appreciate you reaching out to us. We understand and value that perspective.

Prior to Wednesday, we also heard from many parents and guardians concerned for the health and safety of their children attending school in-person with the highly contagious COVID-19 Omicron variant spreading so rapidly. We appreciate and value those perspectives as well.  

Trying to find the right balance amid the continued presence of a deadly worldwide pandemic is hard. Difficult decisions are made each day after analyzing the data we have at hand.

Our schools are the places where our children learn, grow and develop the skills and resources they need to succeed throughout their lives. Their health and safety is a critical responsibility for all of us, and for schools everywhere.

Evaluating the COVID-19 holiday surge

After carefully weighing the impact of this latest and largest COVID-19 surge throughout the holidays and during the first part of this week, we determined that sustaining meaningful, supportive and safe in-person instruction is not currently possible for us. 

With schools reopening this week and Omicron becoming more and more prevalent, faculty, staff and students are more exposed to COVID-19. This exposure heightened the risk as we returned from the holiday break. 

We see the evidence in our daily COVID-19 reports – this disease is spreading at unprecedented and alarming rates. 

Since the start of the holiday break on Dec. 23, our district had 333 new COVID-19 cases reported through Wednesday, with 248 additional unvaccinated contacts also required to quarantine. 

That means that, through Wednesday, the county health department had placed 581 total individuals in our district on quarantine in less than two weeks. The health department put 40% of those individuals on quarantine Wednesday alone, including 167 additional unvaccinated contacts. 

Most critically for our instruction and operations has been the significant increase in employees and students required to quarantine since we returned from holiday break. 

On Sunday and Monday, we reported 144 new positive COVID-19 cases with no additional contacts. After our return from the holiday break, on Tuesday and Wednesday we reported 143 new positive cases with 200 additional unvaccinated contacts required to quarantine

On Wednesday, 259 district employees were absent, with 80% of those absences affecting our instructional staff. That left more than 350 class periods uncovered throughout the district, along with the challenges of covering lunch periods and monitoring hallways. 

COVID-19-related staffing shortages have compromised the delivery of quality instruction and supervision of students. This presents instructional, safety and security risks. 

We have deployed all available non-instructional staff to buildings throughout the district in order to cover these shortages to the best of our ability, and still we do not have enough faculty and staff to fill the gaps at this time. 

Taking steps to mitigate the spread

We remain committed to providing our community with the resources and support needed to keep our students healthy and safe. 

Over the New Year’s weekend, we rallied to develop a process for distributing more than 8,850 COVID-19 test kits the state delivered to us last Friday. 

On Sunday, we distributed more than 1,200 of those test kits to our families. Our school leaders also developed plans to distribute the remaining test kits to our families this week. 

These efforts are continuing through this Friday. You can visit your school page for information about when pickup is available at each school, and for instructions on using the test kits and reporting positive results to the county health department and our school nurses.
We also have continued weekly COVID-19 testing for the 30% of our employees who have yet to submit proof of vaccination, as well as for those employees who opt-in for testing regardless of vaccination status. 

We will offer daily COVID-19 testing for students and employees at six school locations beginning this Friday as well. 
As a result of these intentional efforts to mitigate the virulent spread of COVID-19, not only have positive results increased significantly for our students, but for our faculty and staff as well. 

Continuing to monitor our data

We will continue to follow the guidance and monitor COVID-19 cases in our district, and make our decisions in the best interest of our students, families, faculty and staff to mitigate the spread of the virus and return to in-person instruction as soon as possible. 

Our primary concern is the safety and well-being of our students, families, faculty and staff so that we are able to provide high-quality instruction, with meaningful supervision in order to facilitate safe environments conducive for learning. 

We want to reiterate that we know shifting to distance learning is a hardship for many of our families. We also want to reiterate that it is not our first choice. However, we believe it is the best and safest choice for our children, faculty and staff at this time.

Please know that we are considering all factors as we look to return to in-person instruction, including the possibility of returning sooner than Jan. 18. Those determinations will depend on the status of COVID-19 in our community, the impact on our families, and our employees’ and students’ ability to return to work and school safely. 

These decisions will continue to align with COVID-19 isolation and quarantine guidance as well as the possibility to test out of quarantine. Please watch for more information in the coming days. 

Follow COVID-19 guidance at home

In the meantime, we ask that you continue to follow all COVID-19 health and safety protocols, including wearing masks, frequent hand-washing and social distancing. Please avoid large indoor gatherings. 

We also continue to urge vaccinations for everyone age 5 and older who is eligible and able. In addition, for those families who have yet to pick up a COVID-19 test kit, please visit your school’s web page or contact your child’s school regarding the school-based distribution process. 

Thank you for all of the sacrifices you have made – and continue to make – throughout these frustrating, difficult times. All of your efforts are deeply appreciated. 

Now, more than ever, thank you for being “All in for Albany!”

Yours in education,

Kaweeda G. Adams