Planning in a pandemic

Special Reports

School districts struggle through a summer full of confusion and a lack of guidelines

(NEWS10) — It was a summer full of “what-ifs.” Superintendents, like Bruce Potter in Mechanicville, struggled to find direction ahead of another academic year under the shadow of a pandemic. We tagged along with Potter over the last few weeks of August while he developed his plan to bring students back full-time, safely.

“We base decisions on prior experience. There had been plenty of guidance coming all along, so we anticipated that to continue,” Potter told us last month.

On August 19 the district’s physician, Dr. Carl Sgambati, in consultation with Saratoga County Public Health Services, told us mask-wearing would be determined by community spread and positivity rates.

Dr. Sgambati said, “Are we in a low-level threshold infectivity rate, or are we higher along that framework. The higher along that framework we go the more mandatory we will have to make things.”

The next day, August 20, three weeks out from the start of the school year, and Potter presents the full, in-person reopening plan to his faculty and staff.

“This plan is our best attempt to strike a balance between keeping our students and staff physically safe from COVID while providing a school environment, which promotes normalcy,” Potter said during his virtual meeting.

Things would change, just four days later, when the Hochul administration began.

“I’m also immediately directing the Department of Health (DOH) to institute universal masking for anyone entering our schools,” Governor Hochul said during her inaugural remarks on August 24.

The Mechanicville Community got a chance to respond to the district’s plan a day after Hochul’s inauguration during a special meeting of the city’s school board on the 25.

“I really hope that the mask mandate goes into effect. I’m just nervous about if that’s going to happen or not. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” pre-k parent Meaghan Amann said.

Debbie Derby, who has grandchildren in the district, said, “I can see it on the bus. I don’t think they should have to wear them in class.”

With its own plan already in place and the new mask mandate now coming from the Hochul administration, Mechanicville’s elementary teachers began greeting students the week before opening day.

“It’s incredibly important to have students in the classroom, at all ages, but especially the younger kids. To make those personal connections and to make it an authentic teaching experience for them,” said first-grade teacher Melissa Salvadore.

Jacey LaShomb, a second-grade teacher in Mechanicville, said, “Totally, totally excited. I can’t wait. I love my friends in here. If they’re here, in masks, and we still get to do what we have to do, I’m happy.” 

On Wednesday, September 8, the first day of school, Potter is out in front of the elementary school greeting students as they step off the bus.

“It feels wonderful. We just had a successful drop-off and arrival for the junior/senior high school and we’re incredibly excited to welcome our youngest learners to school. Everybody’s ready to be back,” Potter said.

Principal Chris Turcio said, “We’ve got people waiting at the door. This didn’t happen last year. I’m a little nervous when we open the doors, but I’ll be making an announcement, thank you families we’ve got it from here. I thank the community for putting their trust in us to keep their kids safe and give them the best education possible despite all of the odds.”

Per the state DOH, universal masking is in place until further notice. Unvaccinated faculty and staff will undergo mandatory COVID testing weekly. All protocols will be revisited in 90 days to determine if any modifications need to be made.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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