RENSSELAER — Rensselaer Central will close its doors to in-person instruction until the first of the year starting Monday, Dec. 7.
Because RCHS has experienced a high number of students and staff being identified as close contacts of individuals with COVID-19 this week — including most of the RCHS boys’ basketball team and members of the wrestling team — Rensselaer Central School Corporation Superintendent Curtis Craig said a decision has been made to transition to remote learning for the remainder of the semester.
The end of the second nine weeks and first semester will be Friday, Dec. 18. Christmas break is set to begin Dec. 21 and end Jan. 3.
“Close contacts are quarantined and this has made it difficult to provide class coverage and consistent instruction,” Craig said in a letter to faculty, staff and parents. “Our goal has been to keep our schools open as long as we could provide adequate coverage for classes and ensure the safety of our students. With the large number of people under quarantine, we do not believe in-person instruction is the best option for the high school at this time.”
If conditions permit, in-person instruction at the high school will begin again on Monday, Jan. 4. Middle school and elementary students will experience no disruption and will continue with in-person instruction until the holiday break.
“We understand remote learning is not the preferred instructional format. However, we believe it is the best option for the high school at the current time,” Craig said.
From the start of school in August through November, RCSC reported 29 positive cases, with many of those cases involving students at the high school contracting the virus. But the sporadic pattern of cases allowed the corporation to continue in-person instruction at RCHS.
“We didn’t want to do (remote learning), but we feel pretty fortunate that we’ve gone as far as we have,” Craig said. “We haven’t had to cancel a day of school or delay school all year.”
While the number of students who report positive tests is lower than some schools, contact tracing makes it almost impossible to keep school functioning as is, Craig said. The state’s color-coded map still has Jasper County as an orange county, meaning caution is needed if schools and businesses want to stay open.
The county health department recently went from a 14-day quarantine time frame to 10 days, but even that couldn’t keep some local schools open.
“That helped, but the high school had seven positive cases this week and those seven students are around several other kids,” Craig said. “It’s much easier to keep the elementary school open because kids stay in groups with their class and they have lunch together so you can control things much better. But at the high school, you have passing periods and different classes. It makes it a lot tougher.”
The corporation is also in need of substitute teachers to keep the high school functioning as it should. When there is no instructor for a specific class, students are sent to the library until their next class.
“We had six classes where we couldn’t get substitute teachers,” Craig said. “That stretches your reserves pretty thin.”
A silver lining to the need to go from in-person to remote learning is it allows teachers to get a better assessment of class assignments and assess student needs.
“Teachers now have time to check on students so that those students get full credit for their work as well as contact kids who are behind,” Craig said.
Teachers will continue to come to their classrooms during the two-week break from in-person instruction, Craig said. Students will also be able to continue to work on projects, such as a welding project, at the school when needed.
“If a student needs help with a certain project,” Craig said, “they can still talk with their teacher. They can still come in. It’s not like in the spring when we closed all the buildings and nobody was allowed to come in.”