As the new year gets underway, the Kingston City School District is still struggling with shifting sands in COVID-19 restrictions and how they’re interpreted.
During a meeting of the Board of Education held on Wednesday, January 5, Superintendent Paul Padalino said that guidance from the New York State and Ulster County health departments has changed so frequently that it’s understandable that it might not be clear to members of the public.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Padalino said. “I have a memo from (December) 23rd, (December) 24th, (December) 27th, and now January 4th. So things have been changing very quickly.”
Padalino was referring specifically to the misconception that new quarantine guidance about a reduction in quarantine time from 10 days to five meant for adults also applied to students. It does not, the superintendent said.
“Padalino said. “It is very clear that additional guidance from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) for schools is expected in the coming days for the New York State Department of Health, and the Ulster County Department of Health will review that guidance when it becomes available. For the time being, schools will follow the current New York State guidance regarding isolation, and as of this moment the student isolation and quarantine length has not been shortened to five days. It’s still the 10 days that it’s been for most of this school year.”
New option for unvaccinated
Like other local districts, the KCSD is adding a new option in their efforts to keep schools open. The test-to-stay program applies to unvaccinated students; if an unvaccinated student is in close contact with a student who tests positive, the test-to-stay program would allow the student to remain in school as long as they participate in having three tests administered within seven days. Students who are fully vaccinated do not have to quarantine.
The test-to-stay antigen testing is expected to be performed by Woodstock Apothecary free of charge. The district is seeking locations outside of school grounds to avoid traffic. Test results would be available within 15 minutes, so ideally parents would take their students to be tested before the school day.
“Obviously, this is a pretty big endeavor, given the administration of this type of program. So we want to make sure we have all of our logistics lined up to get this started,” Padalino said. “There are some smaller districts where it’s not quite as complicated; they might have four, five, 10 quarantines. But when you’re looking at 250 in a week, it’s a pretty complex process that we need to go through.”
Padalino added that the district is still unsure how many families will participate in test-to-stay, but he expected the number would be high.
As they started winter break, the KCSD had reported 241 of its 6,301 students testing positive for COVID-19 from the start of the school year through Thursday, December 23. Twenty seven teachers and 34 other staff members had also tested positive. According to the New York State COVID-19 Report Card, the number of students testing positive had risen to 279 by Thursday, January 6, with 45 teachers and 46 staff members also recorded.
Kingston High accounted for 78 of students who’d tested positive since the start of the school year, with J. Watson Bailey Middle School at 56, and M. Clifford Miller Middle School at 33. The range in the district’s elementary schools went from a high of 22 at Ernest C. Myer and a low of 8 at Harry L. Edson.
Padalino said that the KCSD had received test kits from New York State and planned to distribute them in the days following the meeting.
“The elementary schools will be distributing them in the schools, and our secondary schools will be having a drive through distribution,” Padalino said. “We do have a significant number of tests that we want to get out to our families, and we’ll be doing that over next five or six days.”
The next meeting of the Board of Education is scheduled for Wednesday, January 19.