Schools make adjustments, announce positive cases; seek information for post-Thanksgiving plans

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A shift to remote high school and middle school instruction this week in Clinton, data sought to assist planning in Holland Patent and Westmoreland, plus additional cases in Rome and Vernon-Verona-Sherrill (VVS) are among the growing COVID-19 impacts for schools.

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

• 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 upcoming 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.

• 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."

• Rome — The district has learned of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases including an individual of the Strough Middle School community last in the building on Nov. 19, an individual of the Rome Free Academy community last in the building on Nov. 3, and individuals within the Joy Elementary School community last in the building on Nov. 13, Superintendent Peter C. Blake said in a letter Saturday to families and staff.

"At this time, based on contact tracing, all of these positive cases have presented low-risk exposures and there is no need to adjust building schedules for any of the schools," Blake said. "Any individual who was considered a low-risk exposure will be contacted and required to monitor symptoms, but not quarantine. The Strough...case will involve a few individuals needing to quarantine, they will be contacted regarding such, but this will not alter the school schedule."

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 is surveying students, through parents/guardians, and 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 Superintendent Rocco 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 test 20% of the in-person population 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.

• 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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