Onteora schools watching Covid uptick closely

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to target Covid spikes through geographic zones calls for hotspots to be divided into three categories:  red, orange and yellow.

A yellow zone includes areas with a seven-day rolling average above three percent positivity for ten days in combination with twelve or more positive cases per 100,000 residents on. seven-day rolling average.

For orange, the positivity rate is above four percent and for red zones it would be above five percent.

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For red and orange zones, school closure is required, but for the least severe yellow schools could remain open for in-person learning with some conditions.

Onteora schools superintendent Victoria McLaren explained the system to the school board. “They have indicated a school district can either arrange for a testing event or accept results from providers,” she told the Onteora board on November 10.

Districts in a yellow zone would be required to test 20 percent of the in-person population each week. Testing information has to include names, addresses, dates of birth, the results, the lab performing the test, the ordering physician’s name, and the test date. 

“And that would be for all students, faculty and staff who would be on campus for in-person learning,” McLaren explained. “Just saying that out loud is a little overwhelming. That exercise alone would absolutely require additional staff to organize, track and report this information on a weekly basis. Each week, it has to be a different 20 percent.”

The information McLaren has received so far indicates zones would be determined by zip code. Since Onteora is one of the largest districts in the state geographically, it is not clear how a declared hotspot would affect a possible closure. As trustee Dafne DeJesus pointed out, Onteora spans 23 zip codes.

Trustee Bennet Ratcliff suggested reaching out to the state legislators within the district for further guidance.

McLaren suggested cutting back on the frequent emails sent to parents when there is a presumptive positive Covid among staff or students and the resulting quarantines of affected classrooms. “We are beginning to find that it is becoming very repetitive. and we are concerned parents are becoming inundated with these emails. So going forward, we’re contemplating scaling back on these emails,” McLaren said. The administration would only send an email when there is a confirmed positive, McLaren said. As of November 13, only one student has been confirmed positive, and no faculty or staff has.

Trustee Kevin Salem was not so sure now is the right time to cut back on the emails. “Maybe you would like to communicate better so people are less confused,” he said. “But I think the time between when a case is presumptive and the time a test comes back is our best time for stopping the spread of things, so I would just urge you to either clarify that or rethink it a little bit.”

Student representative Leon Savage said students have voiced concerns over faculty, students and staff not wearing masks correctly or not wearing them at all.“Even if it was a brief second, students would drop their masks down below their nose and walk around the hallways and things like that,” he said. “And the main concern was they didn’t have an appropriate place to voice their concerns.” he said, other than emailing the principal. “After talking to the student government, we were wondering if there’s a way that students could either anonymously report or just report in general.”

Savage also noted hesitation in freshmen to report violations of Covid protocols. “There’s a bit of a power imbalance and they fear that if they talk to their teacher directly about it or go over the teacher’s head that there might be some issue,” he said.

McLaren suggested these concerns be brought to high school principal Lance Edelman’s attention so he can suggest solutions.

McLaren said the middle and high schools are on track to move to move toward 50 percent in-person learning this week, but she is closely monitoring an uptick in Covid cases throughout the region. “It’s been incredibly well planned out with all details being attended to,” McLaren reported. “It’s also being structured in such a way that if cases increase and we feel the need to revert back to 25 percent, that is also viable moving forward.”

Until now, the middle and high schools in Onteora were at 25 percent in-person learning, with students in the buildings one day a week and participating remotely for three days. Wednesdays are independent study days. Elementary school students are in-person full time.

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