Responding to mandated testing procedures that school officials said would be “unsustainable,” the Westchester Putnam School Board Association (WPSBA) called on New York State legislators on Nov. 18 to give public schools in designated “yellow zones” the logistical and financial support to conduct random COVID testing of students and staff.  

To be designated a yellow zone, an area or micro-cluster has to have a seven-day average positivity rate above 2.5% for 10 days. Schools in a yellow zone may remain open only if 20% of its population — approximately 400 students and staff in Edgemont (about 1,000 in Scarsdale) — are tested over a two-week period. If the positivity rate among the 20% of those tested is lower than the yellow zone’s current seven-day positivity rate, testing at that school will no longer be required and in-person instruction can continue. 

Schools that report a positivity rate above 3% (placing them in the orange zone) or 4% (placing them in the red zone) would move to remote instruction.

In a letter to the community on Nov. 18, Superintendent Victoria Kniewel pointed out that no public school district in Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess or Putnam counties was able to meet this mandate.

“Schools are not licensed to administer COVID tests, and the cost of implementation is prohibitive.”  

“It is unsustainable for school districts to be responsible for COVID testing in addition to their current work of educating and caring for students during the pandemic,” said Kniewel. “For schools in designated yellow zones, the requirements for random COVID testing of students and staff are administratively challenging, prohibitively expensive, and likely to result in many schools having to switch to fully remote instruction.”

On Nov. 20, the state addressed the concerns raised by Edgemont and the WPSBA and announced Westchester County would provide rapid, self-administered COVID tests to public schools in yellow zones at no cost to the district. Results of the test, BinaxNOW, made by Abbott, would be available in 15 minutes, and parents would be given the option to self-select. 

The number of positive COVID cases reported in Edgemont, as of Nov. 23, stands at:

Edgemont Jr./Sr. High School: 1 on-site student, 1 teacher and 3 staff members

Greenville School: 1 on-site student

Seely Place School: 1 on-site student, 1 teacher and 1 staff member.

Seeking teachers

With remote, hybrid and variations of those schedules becoming more fluid, Kniewel announced at a virtual board of education meeting Nov. 24 that the district is seeking applicants for substitute teachers and classroom monitors to fill in for staff teachers who are sick or quarantining while teaching remotely. Other positions the district is seeking to fill from the community include clerical staff and crossing guards, because of increased midday activity.

The district hired three teachers dedicated to remote-only learning for students in K-2 at both Greenville and Seely Place schools.

Kniewel said families could opt for shifting to a remote-only learning schedule after the holidays or a more permanent fully remote schedule.

With recent scheduling shifts necessitated by isolated positive COVID tests, board member Mariquita Blumberg asked whether there were situations where it would be better, educationally, for students to be fully remote instead of adhering to a hybrid schedule. 

“We’re looking at when the crossover becomes disruptive,” said Kniewel. “It will come down to, do we have enough staff for either a whole grade level being fully remote for a day or a classroom being fully remote for a day, as we continue to contact trace. Those are the decisions and everything we’re looking at as we face some staffing challenges.”

COVID-19 response: What the community needs to know

The Edgemont School District answers questions about COVID exposure, quarantining and school closures:

How does the district determine who must quarantine?

Once the district is informed that a student has tested positive, the district, in consultation with the Westchester Department of Health, requires the in-person classmates and teacher(s) of that student to quarantine for 14 days. At the elementary school, this usually results in 6-10 students needing to quarantine as the result of one positive case. At the Jr./Sr. High School, it can potentially impact more students because of the wider variety of courses each student takes. Only the a.m. or p.m. cohort is affected at all schools.

Do siblings need to quarantine?

If any child in your household tests positive for COVID, all members of the household must quarantine for 14 days. If one of your children has been required to quarantine because of an exposure, but has not tested positive and exhibits no symptoms, then your other children may still attend school in person. 

When do teachers need to quarantine?

Any teacher who tests positive must isolate. If a teacher has taught in a classroom with a student who tests positive, the teacher must also quarantine for 14 days. Teachers must also adhere to the protocols put in place by their own communities and school districts. If a teacher must quarantine but is well, he or she will likely teach remotely. 

If all students always wear masks and maintain social distance, why is it necessary for classes to quarantine because of one positive test?

According to the Westchester County Department of Health, while masks and social distancing are necessary precautions and mitigate risk, they do not remove it. Having potentially exposed students stay home and avoid extracurricular activities, sports, or get-togethers for 14 days is important to slowing the spread. 

What would cause Edgemont schools to go fully remote? 

New York State released its new “Micro-Cluster” strategy in October and updated it on Nov. 12. This strategy lays out what happens based on positivity rates. That information can be found on the school website at Edgemont.org. In addition to NYS guidelines, for Edgemont schools to remain open for in-person instruction, teachers need to be able to come to school to teach. With each positive test, more teachers are asked to quarantine.

If a teacher is quarantined, what happens with that teacher’s in-person classes?

While the teacher is teaching remotely, in-person students still report to their regular classrooms. There is always an adult in the room with the in-person students. All students, both in the classroom and at home, will be learning from the teacher (who is teaching remotely).

What if a member of a student’s household tests positive?

Families should contact the district immediately if any household member tests positive and follow the guidance set forth from the DOH which can be found at https://bit.ly/3nUabWf.

If an athlete tests positive, does the entire team have to quarantine? What happens if an athlete is asked to quarantine because of potential exposure?

If an athlete tests positive, his or her team’s ability to continue practicing and competing depends on when the team last practiced, what the practice involved, where it was held, etc. If an athlete is quarantined because of exposure but has not tested positive, his or her team may continue to practice and compete. No cases among athletes at the Jr./Sr. High School, at this writing, have been reported.

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