Two Altamont Elementary classes quarantined — and never missed a beat

— Photo from Peter Brabant

The face of a smiling teacher, quarantined at home, is projected into her classroom at Altamont Elementary School this week as her class rallies ’round. “It’s been so heart-warming to see how the teachers at school are working with the teachers at home,” said the school’s principal, Peter Brabant.

ALTAMONT — Peter Brabant, the principal of Altamont Elementary School, had a tough weekend.

On Friday, he learned that two people in his school, from two different households, had tested positive for COVID-19. He worked with the county’s health department on Saturday and with Guilderland school district administrators on both Saturday and Sunday.

He also had a meeting with school staff on Sunday. “They helped generate ways to meet the needs of quarantined students and meet the needs of students in class,” he said, praising the staff ideas as innovative and essential.

The school never missed a beat.

By the end of the school day on Tuesday, Brabant was using words like “beautiful” and “heart-warming” to describe the way the school community had come together to allow both the students in class and the students quarantined at home to continue learning.

He conceded, “The teachers on quarantine are disappointed,”

But they are still teaching.

Big screens have been set up in classrooms so that teachers, quarantined at home, can still present lessons to kids at the school.

Sometimes, the kids work interactively with their teachers through Google Classroom or Seesaw and sometimes they work with substitute teachers.

“If it weren’t for problems securing subs, we’d be 100 percent,” said Brabant. “They just don’t want to come to Altamont.”

Brabant wants parents to know that some of the previous requirements for substitute teachers have been relaxed. “There may be people out there looking to make a day’s pay for six-and-a-half hours on a flexible schedule,” he said, stressing, “We have a need.”

While Brabant said it’s understandable people would be wary of entering a school where two people had tested positive for COVID-19, those fears are unwarranted, he said.

“When you come into our building, you see groups of nine to 13 kids in each classroom. It’s a self-contained bubble. There is very little to be concerned about. Our students are socially distanced and wearing masks. That’s the saddest part — how wonderful it was going,” said Brabant.

Faculty and staff, he said, had been understandably anxious with all the planning beforehand. “As soon as those kids came in, you could feel the release happen. It was just lovely,” he said.

The parents have been supportive, Brabant said, and the students have been great.

Last March, the Guilderland schools had to shut down abruptly when one of the first two cases of COVID-19 in Albany County was announced — a woman in her thirties that was part of the Farnsworth Middle School community. Shortly thereafter, schools across the state were shut by executive order.

Teachers scrambled to teach remotely. Since then, Guilderland went through an elaborate planning process and opened for in-person classes on Monday, Sept. 14.

At the elementary level, children are grouped in classroom cohorts. Although they go outside for physical education, they don’t leave their classroom for classes like art or music or even for lunch.

This meant that, when the COVID-19 tests came back positive at Altamont, the entire school wasn’t shut down. Just two classes had to be quarantined — a first-grade class and a third-grade class.

Sixty-some students had chosen to learn remotely from home, Brabant said, and those students continued their learning uninterrupted.

If all goes well, the quarantined students and staff will return to Altamont Elementary School a week from Friday, Oct. 2, Brabant said.

Superintendent Marie Wiles has scheduled a debriefing that day. “We’ll unpack what happened and how we responded,” said Brabant; this will help other schools when they have someone test positive for coronavirus disease 2019.

Guilderland has five elementary schools, all offering in-person learning. The district also has a middle school and a high school, which are offering a mix of remote and in-person learning.

“In the end, this is a bump in the road,” said Brabant. “I hope, as educators, we’re teaching kids to learn from bumps in the road, to become more resilient as adults. We have to be a model for our kids to deal with adversity in positive ways. That’s one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids.”


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