Multiple schools make adjustments amid positive cases

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New shifts to remote instruction for all or part of the Adirondack, Clinton and Westmoreland school districts, data sought for planning in Holland Patent and Westmoreland, plus more cases elsewhere are among the growing COVID-19 impacts for schools.

In addition, plans for all-remote learning from next week through the Christmas-New Year holiday period have been announced in the Whitesboro and Little Falls school districts.

• Adirondack — The district was going to a fully remote educational format today for all students, Superintendent Edward Niznik said in a letter Monday to families and staff; the move was due to two positive cases of COVID-19 affecting students at the middle school, and time needed for contact tracing, the letter added.

The district “will monitor the situation over the holiday in regards to any changes to the schedules for next week,” Niznik said. The Thanksgiving holiday break for schools begins Wednesday.

• Clinton — The high school and middle school will be remote Monday and Tuesday, district Superintendent Dr. Stephen Grimm said in a message to families; he noted the district learned Friday of a positive student COVID-19 case in 8th grade in the middle school, and in 9th grade in the high school.

The conclusion after contact tracing and case analysis “is that anyone in the classes, or otherwise exposed to those students, are considered a low risk exposure,” and “this alone would not necessarily trigger switching to remote,” said Grimm. But he added “our team has looked at the total picture, including regional infection rates, a rise in the Clinton wastewater treatment plant COVID detection, and other factors” in deciding on the middle- and high-school instructional change. The elementary school is continuing on its cohort/hybrid schedule combining in-person and remote instruction.

• Holland Patent — The district asked families to complete an online survey form indicating whether students plan to travel out-of-state during the Thanksgiving recess and, if so, to what states. The information is to help the district prepare for school following the recess. District Superintendent Jason Evangelist addressed the survey in a letter last week to parents and guardians that outlined state travel restrictions and requirements relating to COVID-19.

Evangelist said Monday the survey responses “indicate we do not have many people traveling to states that will require an extended quarantine.” The district is on a hybrid schedule and plans to continue next week, he noted, adding that regarding COVID-19 “we will monitor the positivity rate and positive cases within our school district as...we approach” next week.

In addition, Evangelist sent a letter today to the school community stating the district is asking 20% of in-person students, faculty and staff to volunteer to be tested for COVID-19 on their own if the region is designated a yellow zone by the state; the testing, to be done within two weeks following a yellow zone designation, would help the district continue with in-person instruction based on state requirements.

• Little Falls — All students will be instructed virtually from Nov. 30 until the end of the holiday break, with an anticipated return to cohort attendance as of Jan. 4, district Superintendent Keith Levatino said in a Nov. 18 letter to parents and guardians.

Levatino cited “recent spikes in infection rates in Herkimer County and surrounding areas,” and “there also have been confirmed cases in schools that bring the danger much closer to home.”

• Oneida — The district was told Monday that a staff member had tested positive for COVID-19, said Superintendent Mary-Margaret Zehr. The staff member had limited contact with students and did not become symptomatic until this weekend, said Zehr, adding that students who did not have direct contact with the staff member are safe to remain in school.

The district previously said a week ago that Oneida High School and Otto Shortell Middle School would be learning remotely through Tuesday this week due to a separate COVID-19 announcement.

• Rome — The district has learned of six confirmed positive COVID-19 cases involving individuals of school communities, Superintendent Peter C. Blake said in letters Saturday and Monday to families and staff. The school communities included Rome Free Academy, two cases, plus Strough Middle School along with Bellamy, Joy and Ridge Mills elementary schools.

Blake said there was no need to adjust schedules for any of the schools. His letter Saturday said one case each involving RFA, Strough and Joy presented low-risk exposures based on contact tracing, also noting the Strough case would involve a few individuals needing to quarantine. His letter Monday regarding one case each involving RFA, Bellamy and Ridge Mills said any individual who may have had an exposure was being contacted by the health department. But “based on the minimal extent of exposure and timing of these cases, there is no need to adjust building schedules....”

Blake previously announced last week that RFA would shift to all-remote learning through Tuesday this week due to short shortages caused by quarantines. He said Monday that all other district schools are on hybrid schedules this week.

• Westmoreland — The district was converting to 100% remote instruction today, Superintendent Rocco Migliori said in a message to parents/guardians. The district learned Monday morning of two new positive COVID-19 cases at the Primary Elementary School and one at the Jr./Sr. High School, he said. His message also said seven bus drivers are in mandatory quarantine.

In a related matter, the district is surveying students, through parents/guardians, plus staff members on whether they are willing to get voluntarily tested for COVID-19.

The information is to determine if the district can meet testing requirements to remain open for in-person instruction if the county’s increasing infection rate reaches 3% which could prompt the state to declare all or parts of the Mohawk Valley region/county a “yellow zone,” said Migliori in a letter and video message Friday to the school community. Schools in “yellow zones” must test 20% of in-person students and staff over a two-week period immediately following a “yellow zone” designation, he said. Failure to do so would require the district to convert to 100% remote instruction until the “yellow zone” designation is lifted.

Last week, 60 of the district’s 150 in-person faculty/staff members, or about 40%, volunteered to be tested and there was one positive case, Migliori said in the video. The district implemented quarantine procedures and was able to remain open for in-person instruction, he added.

The district is converting to 100% remote instruction from Nov. 30-Dec. 4 and from Jan. 4-8 following holiday breaks.

• Whitesboro — The district “temporarily transitioned to a full-remote program from Nov. 30-Dec. 22 given the rising COVID-19 cases and the increasing impact that has had on our schools,” said Superintendent Dr. Brian Bellair. Its hybrid instruction is scheduled to resume Jan. 4 after the holiday break.

The district “will not need our full complement of staff during this time,” said Bellair. The district is furloughing 103 employees including 49 bus drivers and 26 teacher aides among them. Instead of layoffs, he observed, in furloughs they can “retain their status as employees, maintain health insurance and other benefits, be given the option to use paid time off to cover any/all of the furlough, and can be recalled to work even during the furlough should circumstances warrant.”

Bellair pointed out that unlike school shutdowns last spring due to COVID-19 “when the governor by executive order authorized schools to continue to honor contracts and continue paying all employees, no such executive order exists” for the current school year. “For us to continue paying employees who are not working would be an illegal and unconstitutional gift of public funds.”

• VVS — The district learned Friday afternoon that a third bus driver tested positive for COVID-19, said Superintendent Martha Group.

The district already had announced Friday morning it was moving to remote learning Monday and Tuesday this week, with its situation to be monitored during the Thanksgiving break, and had been notified Thursday of a second bus driver testing positive. Group said “it is a priority at VVS to return to hybrid instruction as soon as we are safely able to do so.”

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