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Council leader: Long-term remote or hybrid instruction unlikely in suburban schools

Theresa Jasen teaching during the Personal Money Management at Hilton High School. Jasen uses her own fianances to illustate calculting debt to the students becuse most have not taken on any to calculate yet.
Theresa Jasen teaches a personal money management class at Hilton High School.

"Weathering the storm" is how Bo Wright, president of the Monroe County Council of School Superintendents, described his job Thursday.

Wright, who also runs the Rush-Henrietta School District, said many districts are missing a chunk of their staff due to COVID-19 cases. In his district — which the New York State Department of Health School Report Card said is down roughly 74 teachers and staff as of Wednesday — 469 students have tested positive as well.

“We've seen a wave of staff members testing positive. About 7% of our staff were out with COVID-related issues, either in isolation or quarantining, taking care of family members that are ill,” said Wright.

Wright said librarians, paraprofessionals and other staffers are being asked to fill in for all kinds of classes in an effort to keep school buildings open. He claims this approach will not negatively affect learning because principals and administrators are careful about how substitutes are distributed.

The rise in COVID-19 cases has pushed the districts to the brink, but like a lot of industries, Wright said schools were already short-staffed.

“We're just going to have to continue to get creative and work together here over the course of the next few weeks, but as I said in the very beginning, districts are very, very thin right now related to staffing,” said Wright. “This isn't an issue related to health and safety in schools, when we have this conversation around the transition, possibly, to remote learning. This is a conversation that's directly related to the labor shortage.”

Closing buildings, Wright said, would do more harm than good. He said isolation brought on by the pandemic caused high levels of anxiety and sometimes bad behavior among students.

Despite the surge and all its byproducts, Wright said he’s not considering a hybrid approach, or a mix of in-person and remote classes, which most districts had for parts of the 2020-21 school year. If things worsen, Wright said, he could see select programs or classes go remote but only for short periods of time.

"When we talk about remaining open, because it's best for kids, it's not just an instructional conversation, it's a conversation about student mental health. It's a conversation about, you know, social-emotional wellness,” he said.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.