By Connor Linskey
Several parties on Halloween weekend forced the Pine Bush Central School District to postpone the start of hybrid in-person instruction in grades 7-12.
Acting Superintendent of Schools Donna Geidel announced on the district’s website on Nov. 5 that she had learned that some students gathered in large groups and did not wear masks or practice social distancing during these gatherings. As of last Tuesday evening, 21 Pine Bush High School (PBHS) students had tested positive for COVID-19.
This has delayed the start of hybrid in-person instruction in grades 7-12, which was scheduled to begin on Nov. 10. Students will remain on a 100 percent remote instructional model through Monday, Nov. 30, with hybrid students in grades 7-12 expected to return on Tuesday, Dec. 1.
The COVID-19 outbreak also caused the district to cancel the SAT exam that was scheduled for Nov. 7. The district announced that students should expect a full refund from the College Board.
One particular Halloween party has drawn increased scrutiny because of its host: Pine Bush Board of Education member Matt Watkins. He has three children who are students at PBHS and noted that his family has children over his house regularly. Paul Biondi, a parent in the district, stated during public comment at the board of education meeting on Nov. 10 that there were 50 people at the party, however Watkins noted there were far less. Watkins added that he told attendees to wear masks, however many did not. He has since tested positive for COVID-19 and is also asthmatic and under advanced medical treatment.
The party sparked outrage from parents in the district, who voiced their concerns during public comment at the board of education meeting on Nov. 10.
Tracy Hornbeck was disappointed by the postponement of in-person hybrid learning in grades 7-12 as well as the cancellation of the SAT. This was her daughter’s last chance to take the SAT before the early admission deadline to many colleges.
“Unfortunately this careless behavior has had negative repercussions for every student in the district and is in direct violation of the Pine Bush Central School District’s code of ethics,” Hornbeck said.
“School board members should be held to a higher standard as leaders within our community,” Biondi said.
Biondi added that Watkins put many people at risk by hosting the party.
Raven Atria believes that hybrid in-person instruction in grades 7-12 should not be postponed, as she fears it will continue to be delayed.
Geidel answered that the reason for the delay is that this recent outbreak of COVID-19 has the potential to spread.
“At this point we have identified 21 positive cases in the high school,” she said. “If you look at siblings down in the elementary and middle schools it has the potential to be a super spreader event. At this time in the process of contact tracing, we do not know how far the virus has spread in our community. So, we are taking the utmost care to be responsible and careful and that is why we have so far pushed back 7-12.”
The district made the decision to push back hybrid in-person learning in consultation with the Orange County Department of Health.
“We feel it is the best decision we could have made at this time,” Geidel said.
Board of Education President Gretchen Meier said at last Tuesday’s meeting that she was unable to make a statement at that time regarding Watkins’ Halloween gathering. She encouraged the community to continue to report positive COVID-19 cases.
As of Monday, Watkins was still under advanced medical care.