Cortland County school districts sticking with in-person learning amid omicron outbreak

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School districts within Cortland County returned to in-person instruction on Monday following a week off for the holidays.

Amid an outbreak of COVID-19’s omicron variant in New York State, which has seen positive cases rise to the similar levels as the beginning of the pandemic, superintendents within the county are continuing to provide a healthy and safe in-person classroom learning environment.

According to the New York State Department of Health COVID-19 tracker as of Jan. 3 (based on a 7-day average), the average cases per 100K ranges between 59.4 to 520.9. The percentage who test positive is between 9.7-27.6 percent across the state.

For Cortland County, the average cases per 100K is 145.2, while the percentage who test positive is 13.8. Compared to Onondaga County, which has seen some of the school districts on Monday switch to remote learning, their average caseload per 100K is 182.4 and percentage of positives is 17.4.

All superintendents from each school district within Cortland County confirmed Monday that the goal is to stay in-person for classroom learning. Remote learning is in the back pocket of each school district, but a hybrid option is becoming a thing of the past.

“The only way we would go virtual is if we don’t have enough staff to be able to accommodate the students coming to school,” said Tom Turck, superintendent of the Homer Central School District (HCSD).

The Cortland Enlarged City School District (CECSD), for example, will consider remote learning “just like the previous times we have gone remote,” said CECSD superintendent Bob Edwards.

“If we had to, we would do it,” Edwards said. “We would deliver all sorts of (school) devices, have meal pickups and support students and staff in all ways that we can.”

Turck noted that prior to holiday break, HCSD has had their students bring home their school devices on a nightly basis.

“This is in case we woke up one morning and couldn’t get students to school,” Turck said. “We have the virtual option if we so choose.”

The McGraw Central School District has a recurring plan in place where quarantined students are “currently tutored in a remote manner,” said McGraw superintendent Melinda McCool.

“Nearly all teachers and staff working with students are vaccinated,” McCool said. “As the spread has been near zero within the school setting and the new variants appear to be less severe, I am confident that we will be able to remain in-person.”

Rebecca Stone, superintendent at Marathon Central Schools, said the school district has a remote learning in place if needed.

“We are currently in person and plan to stay in person,” Stone said.

Edwards noted like the rest of the school districts within the county, CECSD has “layers of protection in place and continues to focus on the learning and achievement of our students.”

“Our safety protocols have been proven successful,” Turck said in HCSD’s effort to provide a healthy and safe environment for students and staff. “There’s not many folks that will argue with you when they say kids do better when they’re in school. It’s not ideal to teach from a distance.”

The county’s school districts like McGraw will continue “to follow exceptional cleaning and disinfecting procedures, frequent hand washing protocols, social distancing, outdoor lessons and play and mask wearing,” McCool said.

“It’s important to continue in-person teaching, as much as we can,” Cincinnatus Central School superintendent Todd Freeman said.

Turck added, “We’ve tried throughout the pandemic to keep our kids in regular attendance at school. We will continue to do so.