Last week, I described where we were at as a flashing yellow light. This week, we have come to a flashing red. Since the Governor’s designation of much of Erie County as a “Yellow Zone,” we have been working extremely hard in collaboration with the NYS Department of Health, BOCES, and area school districts to find a way forward and determine how we can meet the 20% testing requirement. For now, our plan is as follows:
Students currently attending in-person instruction (Gr. K-1 Group A and Group B classes and Self-Contained Special Education Programs) will continue to attend school in-person. However, we need our families to be prepared to transition to fully remote learning at any point. If that happens, students currently participating in fully virtual (VLA) learning will stay with their current teachers.
We have made the difficult decision to pause the phase-in of Gr. 2-5 classes, which was originally scheduled to take place Monday. These students will continue taking part in remote learning each day. Gr. 2-5 fully virtual (VLA) students will remain with their current teachers for the time being.
- We will not be advancing the timeline for Gr. 6-12 at this time. These students will continue taking part in remote learning each day. More to come about this timeline and advancing it as weeks progress.
- Meal distribution will remain unchanged unless otherwise announced.
- Every Friday, I will update you on what our plan is moving forward. To give families as much advance notice as possible, the changes I announce each Friday will not be for the following week, but the week after that. For example, next Friday, I will announce what our plan is for Nov. 30 and beyond.
This strategy will give families continuity in their planning and provide as much advance notice as possible. We have submitted an application to obtain the necessary Limited Services Laboratories (LSL) licensing to carry out the testing in our school buildings. As soon as we obtain the necessary license, we will be able to request the needed tests from the state. We have also contacted local agencies whose services we may be able to purchase.
We have learned some things since I addressed the community earlier this week. We’ve learned that those who have not consented to testing will not be forced to transition to remote learning. Please understand, though, that we would need the help of our families to make this happen. If we do not have sufficient numbers of students to test, we cannot keep our schools open for in-person learning. Our understanding is that NYSDOH will be providing the Abbott BinexNOW nasal rapid test, which is not as invasive as other tests. We will soon be providing families with a consent form. Please keep an eye out for this communication, and complete the process as quickly as possible.
We also have refined our projections for the number of tests we would need to carry out each week. By pausing with only Gr. K-1 and Self-Contained Special Education students in attendance, we will need to test approximately 450 students and staff each week. When we phase in Gr. 2-5 classes, we will need to test approximately 710 students and families each week (that number would rise to approximately 1,210 with Gr. 6-12).
At this time, we have not received a deadline from the state, but there are many challenges and hurdles to overcome. One is the cost. It has been indicated that, if school nurses were able to carry out the testing, there would be little or no cost to school districts. This may be true, but we need our nurses to continue their regular duties. The role they play, especially during the pandemic, is vitally important. We need them to continue to focus on the health and safety of students attending school in-person. Therefore, we may need to bring in trained, licensed professionals to carry out the testing. We are looking at multiple plans to implement the testing. One such plan would cost approximately $10,000 per week for Gr. K-1 and Self-Contained Special Education.
Another challenge we face is limited agency resources. Companies we have contacted have not been able to confirm that they have the capacity to carry out the testing in a district as large as Ken-Ton, so we do not have a contract in place with a service provider. We have not yet confirmed that we will be able to administer and process the necessary number of tests each week to remain open for in-person learning. We do not yet have the tests or the necessary licensing to carry out the testing. Finally, we will need more families willing to consent to take part in the testing than we currently have.
It is worth noting that we have no evidence of COVID-19 transmission in our schools. Our students, staff, and families have done exactly what we needed them to do to reduce the risk of transmission in our buildings. Nevertheless, we have seen the number of cases and the positivity rate increase significantly in our region within the past two weeks. We are anticipating the possibility of an “Orange” or “Red” designation, which brings with it additional restrictions. It is our understanding that areas of the county, including Ken-Ton, may already be eligible for an “Orange” or “Red” designation. Therefore, it is vitally important that we all prepare for a sudden transition to remote learning, which may happen suddenly and without notice. For those who need assistance with childcare, please refer to the information provided by Erie County on the Virtual Learning Support Centers. These may be able to assist you.
I am very proud of the extraordinary work of all of our students, staff, and families in minimizing the risk of transmission in our schools. I am also grateful for the patience and cooperation of our families during this extraordinarily difficult time. Phasing in a hybrid schedule for all grade levels and returning to in-person instruction remains our objective. We intend to continue to carry out in-person instruction until it is no longer an option.
We all need to do our part in reducing positivity rates. That means wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, staying home when sick, and following all other recommended safety precautions. Please stay safe, be prepared, and do your part to protect our community.