Kingston school district frustrated by quarantine restrictions

Officials in the Kingston City School District say they’re as frustrated as many parents with the number of students being quarantined this year, but say they’re the result of COVID-19 restrictions imposed by the Ulster County Department of Health.

“The size of our school buildings, the number of students we have, the transportation needs and the complexity of our secondary schedules along with staffing shortages and contractual agreements make it nearly impossible for us to comply fully with the recommendations of the Department of Health,” said Superintendent Paul Padalino during a meeting of the Board of Education held Wednesday, December 8. “Many of the quarantine criteria seem to defy logic, defy science, and even defy our own internal data that we have around that. Without some sort of change in these policies, we’ll continue to see these quarantines grow.”

As of press time, the district has had 202 students test positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the school year. That number is up from 183 the previous week, and Padalino said just six of those came from student-to-student transmission. School officials also said that there have been two teacher-to-teacher viral transmissions this year, and no student-to-teacher or teacher-to-student transmissions. Padalino added that as of December 8, the district had 42 active cases that resulted in 568 quarantines.

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School officials feel the number of quarantines are disruptive given the number of positive cases they’ve actually produced.

“We’ve quarantined close to a thousand students this year and of those 1000 students only six have tested positive for COVID 19,” Padalino said. “So we need to really re-look at our quarantine policies and look at some of the restrictions that are within that. We’re following the rules…I think we’re following them to the T. And that’s why we’re seeing these quarantines. But we’d like to work with the Department of Health to try to look at our data and look at what we’ve seen in our schools and our mitigation efforts that are working to make some adjustments to how we can implement that guidance.”

The superintendent added that under current county guidance, it’s unlikely that quarantines will lessen.

“The only way to reduce quarantines within current restrictions would be to decrease the number of students attending our schools, go to hybrid — which is not something we feel is in the best interests of our students,” Padalino said. “The only other answer is obviously more students who are vaccinated, but that’s out of our control. That’s a family consideration.”

Padalino said the district’s vaccination rate among teachers and other staff is “very high,” but said they have no way of knowing how many students have been vaccinated. Still, he hoped the district would continue to encourage families to ensure their children are vaccinated, especially as those as young as age five are now eligible. Beyond the hope that widespread vaccination will help end the pandemic, it can also reduce the quarantine rates in schools.

“Students who are fully vaccinated and are showing no symptoms do not have to quarantine,” Padalino said. “That’s one of the other values of vaccination. That’s really the only time that (a student with) direct contact with a COVID-positive person can remain out of quarantine.”
Padalino said he hoped that the Department of Health would work with the KCSD in coming to a less-disruptive plan going forward, and stressed that while he understood the frustration some parents are feeling, the district currently has no say in how quarantines work.

“We do not quarantine,” he said. “And we do not release from quarantine. We exclude from school based on close contact or a positive. The county is the only body that can quarantine a student and the county is also the only body that can release a student from quarantine. We cannot release a student from quarantine.”

School board President James Shaughnessy said he hoped the Department of Health would be willing to consider the district’s experience with infection rates, contact tracing and quarantine as they move forward.

“Sometimes I think that the troops in the trenches have a much better view of and understanding of what’s going on than the generals up in the bluff overlooking it,” he said. “And I would put the Department of Health as those people off on the bluffs.”