HANNIBAL — Hannibal schools have pivoted to full-scale online learning for all students until at least Oct. 13, after county Health Department officials reported over the weekend several staff members and at least one student tested positive for COVID-19.
The move shifts the approximately 500 students who attended Hannibal Central School District (HCSD) school facilities for in-person instruction to an online learning mode, which includes online meetings and access to learning materials after traditional hours, said HCSD Superintendent Christopher Staats. The online-only learning model will continue for a minimum of two weeks.
The four positive cases were registered at Fairley Elementary School in the town of Hannibal and Staats said the district continues to monitor the situation, instructing “numerous students” into temporary quarantine. He added no services available to students should be impacted by the move, and families will be given access to enroll in lunch pickup programs.
“I want to emphasize that education is still about parents having great relationships with their kids,” Staats said in a Monday interview. “This pandemic has given us a chance to be very reflective and evaluate what is important for us. Their children’s safety is something that I prioritize in my mind. I want parents to know that I think of their kids as a part of my family too.”
Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang said the district and county health officials have been working closely to determine appropriate action, and noted local health officials supported HCSD’s decision. Huang was not able to provide an exact number of students and faculty who tested positive or were in quarantine as of Monday afternoon, but called it “a large number” that includes both students and teachers.
HCSD students started this school year Sept. 9, after educators and administrators spent the summer figuring out an easy transition for logistical issues such as attendance, grades and parent-teacher interactions. Families were then given the choice to opt-in or out of in-person instruction, leading to 515 students sharpening their pencils and loading up their backpacks after infection rates declined in the Empire State throughout the summer.
Despite the sudden change of plans, Staats said he is confident in the contingency measures administrators and teachers have been crafting throughout the year.
“In the back of everyone’s brains there are hopes that no one gets sick, but I feel fortunate to be surrounded by incredibly smart people who built a plan I knew we can bank on,” he said in reference to the district’s online infrastructure. “My desire is to always help educate kids in-person. I feel better when we have the children learning at school.”
Educators, Staats said, were key in constructing the plans for online education at HCSD.
“I have, and I am not exaggerating, the most amazing collection of educators and employees, and we put a lot of time into professional development,” he said.
After the two-week mandatory online instruction period, the district will re-survey families to give them the opportunity to opt in or out of face-to-face classes, Staats said.
“Safety is our top priority. At this time, it is in the best interest of our students and staff to engage our students through remote learning for the next two weeks,” he said. “I am committed to supporting our instructional staff to build upon the relationship that has been established and provide a strong instructional program to our students.”
Ultimately, any decision involving public health in schools requires oversight from local health authorities, according to Staats.
County Health Department Senior Public Health Educator Diane Oldenburg said the department has worked closely with school districts across Oswego to ensure public safety.
“We have worked with all districts prior to schools reopening to review plans and procedures to be able to contact trace and notify staff and families of students that may be exposed to COVID 19,” she said. “The timely response and cooperation of the Hannibal school district helped in the implementation of strategies to contain the spread of the virus.”