Quaker Ridge Elementary School switched to fully remote learning Thursday, Oct. 15, as school district officials awaited rapid COVID-19 test results of two previously quarantined students who began showing symptoms. The school will reopen for hybrid learning on Friday as both tests came back negative.
Assistant Superintendent of Special Education and Student Services Eric Rauschenbach learned of the students developing mild symptoms before 7 a.m. and sent a message to the school community just after 7:30 a.m. saying the closure was “out of an abundance of caution.” He wrote, “We apologize for the late notice, however, the District received this information this morning and needed to make decisions immediately.”
At 12:55 p.m., Rauschenbach sent a follow-up with news of negative results based on Rapid PCR tests. “This is extremely happy news to us and to the family,” he wrote. “I would like to thank them for the timeliness of their information and taking the health and safety of the community seriously! As prescribed by NYS guidance the family will continue the 14-day quarantine and we look forward to welcoming them back once that is completed.”
If there is a positive case, the community can expect a school to close for 24 to 48 hours while the Department of Health and the school conduct extensive contact tracing to see who a staff member or student had contact with outside of classes or cohorts. “You don’t know who connects with who,” Rauschenbach said. The building would then reopen to those who are not forced to quarantine or get tested.
“For the short-term closures — and we put this out in a community update not too long ago — if we had to close short term for 24 to 48 hours, teachers basically convert their in-person learning to Zoom,” Rauschenbach told the Inquirer Thursday evening. “The kids follow basically the same schedule as they do for hybrid. If we go to a longer-term closure then we switch to our long-term remote plan.”
Normally the school would close only if there was a positive test, but given the tight time frame between finding out about the new symptoms and the start of the school day, Scarsdale, in consultation with district physician Dr. Louis Corsaro, opted to break the protocol and “treat this as a presumptive positive until we were proven otherwise,” Rauschenbach said.
“I think we’re going to be conservative, because by being conservative we stand the best chance of allowing in-person learning for as long as it’s able to continue and hopefully that’s for the year,” Rauschenbach said. “Assuming we don’t have a spread within the schools we should be able to keep this going.”
This was Scarsdale’s first closure of the new school year. There have been staff and students in quarantine, but not due to a spread of COVID within the schools. They have been more Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon type of situations.
“If we were to see a situation where we had a case and more kids in that cohort had a case, that would be much more concern for closing wider, because you would assume there is an in-school spread happening,” Rauschenbach said. “We haven’t seen that.”
Quaker Ridge principal Dr. Felix Gil was relieved with the outcome of the tests and looks forward to welcoming students back to the building Friday. He took pride in the way his colleagues were nimble in their handling of e-learning for the day.
“The schedule, by and large, did not change today,” Gil told the Inquirer. “Teachers were able to switch easily to online sessions; students, who are now mostly familiar with online platforms and procedures, followed suit. We maintained our expected instructional schedule. Although we prefer to be in school, in person, we take comfort in the fact that teachers, students and parents moved to online instruction quickly.”
Gil called it a “productive instructional day.”
“These are challenging times, as has been said by many, but Scarsdale is a strong community,” Gil said. “Today illustrated how resilient and determined we are to ensure the best possible experience for our children.”
Rauschenbach was equally pleased with the way everyone adapted. “It’s still uncharted territory, but everybody is pulling together to make it the best it can be,” he said.
At 3 p.m. Thursday, Superintendent Dr. Thomas Hagerman sent a communication to the school community focused on several topics, among them reinforcing the reasoning behind the closure. “This decision allowed us to do three things: (1) allow the family to be tested, (2) provide time for the school to identify the students who had contact with the students in quarantine, and (3) prepare the District to assist the DOH, if the testing came back positive,” he wrote. “Thankfully, the test results came back negative, and the family will complete their 14-day quarantine as prescribed by NYS Guidance.”
In the email, Hagerman also included information he received during a regional superintendent’s meeting Thursday morning of a “novel” COVID-19 symptom showing up in the area, which he said is “referred to as ‘COVID fingers and toes.’” He included the following excerpt from weillcornell.org:
“Currently, physicians have a more nuanced understanding of how the virus may manifest itself in those who become seriously ill, as well as those who have mild symptoms.
“Dermatologists around the world have noticed an increasing number of patients presenting with an unusual rash that may be related to COVID-19: red-purple, tender or itchy bumps that develop mostly on the toes, but also on the heels and fingers. The skin findings resemble perniosis or chilblains, a rash that typically is associated with exposure to cold conditions. According to Dr. Harp, a dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine who specializes in complex medical dermatology and skin disorders related to internal disease, ‘These skin findings are typically linked to cold weather. So seeing so much of it now is very unusual. Dermatologists think it may be one of the ways the body responds to the COVID-19 virus.’
“Since COVID-19 is a new disease, there is very little data about it, including about COVID toe. However, physicians have observed that the majority of patients who develop COVID toes do not become severely ill from the virus.
“‘The majority of COVID toe patients seem to be completely asymptomatic or have only mild symptoms,’ reassured Harp. ‘These patients often recover fully at home.’”