GASD staff, parents/guardians,
If you’ve watched the news recently or simply had conversations with friends, relatives or neighbors the topic undoubtedly centers around COVID-19. Will schools be forced to go to all remote instruction again? Will businesses be forced to close? What are these color-coded COVID “hotspot” regions the government is talking about and what do they mean?
We know these are confusing times so I wanted to take a minute to help clarify some of it for you, how it relates to Greater Amsterdam Schools and the future course of action we take.
First, let me make it clear that our No. 1 goal is to keep our school buildings open and safe for our staff and students. We believe there is no substitute for in-person learning and its academic, social and emotional benefits for all involved. GASD has been very fortunate because we have followed our protocols and have taken the necessary operational precautions and we will continue to do so.
At this time, the only reasons GASD would make a shift to fully remote learning for all are:
- IF our region is directed to do so by Governor Andrew Cuomo or the Department of Public Health based upon the state’s color-coded zone system (see below for explanation); OR
- IF a significant number of GASD faculty are placed in mandatory quarantine, and a staffing shortage requires that we temporarily shift a class or school building to a fully remote setting, or switch to virtual services in the case of Special Needs students.
Should any of these situations occur you will continue to be notified through Parent Square, the GASD parent/staff notification system, and this website.
Understanding New York state’s Yellow, Orange and Red zone classifications
Schools in New York state have received new guidance about how the state is tracking COVID-19 infection rates and the metrics it is using. The state has implemented a color-coding system as a means to identify COVID-19 “hotspot” or “microcluster” areas. We want to share information about how this color-coding system may impact our schools. Please note that at this time, there are few cases of COVID-19 at GASD and we continue to operate as normal with our schools open. We are also not currently in a designated color-coded zone. We are simply sharing this information to keep you informed.
New York state is using a color-coded system to track COVID-19 infection rates by region. The system identifies regions that exhibit certain metrics related to COVID-19. The color coding includes Yellow, Orange and Red zones. Yellow indicates a “precautionary zone,” Orange indicates a “warning zone” and Red signifies a “hot spot” or “microcluster.”
Montgomery County, with fewer than 50,000 residents, and GASD are located in the Tier 4 region of New York state. In this region, the following has to happen in terms of positive COVID cases to be designated a color zone. On Dec. 11, 2020, Governor Cuomo updated the metrics to include regional hospital bed and ICU capacity into the color zone formula.
- ALL COLORS: 15 or more new daily cases per 100,000 residents on a 7-day average
- YELLOW: 7-day rolling positive test average above 4 percent for 10 days. Hospitals: The region is in the top 10 percent in the state for hospital admissions per capita over the past week and is experiencing week-over-week growth in daily admissions.
- ORANGE: 7-day rolling positive test average above 5 percent for 10 days. Hospitals: The region has reached 85 percent hospital capacity. Alternatively, a geographic area may also become an Orange Zone if the New York State Department of Health determines the area or region’s rate of hospital admissions is unacceptably high and a zone designation is appropriate to control the rate of growth.
- RED: 7-day rolling positive test average above 6 percent for 10 days. Hospitals: A red zone will be implemented in a region where hospital capacity is within 21 days of reaching 90 percent, even after the cancellation of elective procedures and a 50 percent increase in bed capacity in hospitals in the region.
It’s important to note that the color-coded system applies to entire communities, not just schools. Even if a school district does not have any or few confirmed cases of COVID-19, it may be included in a color-coded zone based on the region’s metrics.
At this time, our region has reached no specific color designation of any kind. However, given recent testing trends, it is possible that we may move into a Yellow zone in the days ahead.
Montgomery County is dealing with wide community spread from numerous sources and that was the reason our schools were asked to go fully remote the two days before our Thanksgiving recess and before the December holiday recess.
What will happen to GASD schools if we enter a color zone?
GASD is working closely with county health officials at this time to determine what course of action schools will take should the county enter a color zone status. The major state requirement for schools to continue with in person instruction during a color zone status is their ability to offer COVID-19 testing to a percent of in person students and staff monthly either on campus or at an off campus site. At this time county health officials have told school districts in the county that they don’t have the staffing available to conduct all the testing necessary. The district has applied to the NYS Department of Health for permits to conduct its own testing of students and staff. If the testing requirements cannot be met the district would immediately pivot to remote only learning for all students.
Testing requirements for school districts in an Orange Zone
For schools in an Orange Zone, a total of 10 percent of students, faculty and staff who are on-site (participating in in-person or hybrid instruction) must be tested for COVID-19 bi-weekly (i.e., every 2 weeks) following the zone designation. As long as the school remains in the Orange Zone, an additional 10 percent of the on-site population must be tested bi-weekly (for a total of 20 percent tested over a 4-week period).
Testing requirements for school districts in a Red Zone
For schools in a Red Zone, a total of 15 percent of students, faculty and staff who are on-site (participating in in-person or hybrid instruction) must be tested for COVID-19 bi-weekly (i.e., every 2 weeks) following the zone designation. As long as the school remains in the Red Zone, an additional 15 percent of the on-site population must be tested bi-weekly (for a total of 30 percent tested over a 4-week period).
See the following link about how schools will operate remotely during a COVID-19 closure:
How instruction will continue if school is closed due to COVID-19
Because responding to a pandemic, as we know, requires great flexibility, guidance about this issue may change. We continue to work together toward the goal of keeping our schools open.
This is an ever-changing situation. With or without the color classifications, it is possible that an individual case or set of circumstances could force us into a temporary pivot to remote only learning in a building or even in a specific classroom. It is important to stay connected to Parent Square and our website. We will keep you informed each step of the way. All parents and staff will also continue to be informed of any positive cases in their child’s school building through an immediate notification from the district.
At this time, we will stay the course and continue to be vigilant with our precautions. I appreciate everyone’s commitment to our health and safety precautions and the work that is being done to support our students.
GASD Superintendent of Schools