November 30, 2020
We hope all members of the St. Mark community were able to enjoy their Thanksgiving despite the requirements for celebrating during a global pandemic. For those that traveled, we encourage you to follow the recommendations put forth by the CDC to ensure safe interactions with other members of the St. Mark community.
Our teachers spent the four days before Thanksgiving break working exceedingly hard to transition from Hybrid to fully remote Distance Learning. We know there were some technological glitches on the school end and in the community however, teacher input indicated that they were able to reach most students, carry out instruction and were happy to see all students’ faces together. Going fully remote was a difficult process for students, teachers and families and we will continue to improve upon this model while classes are virtually in session.
There has been differing information in the news media related to the return to in person instruction while in designated Orange and Red zones. The process of obtaining COVID-19 tests is much more complicated than contacting an agency and having them come in to test.
As soon as the Orange Zone designation came out on 11/18/20, St. Mark School was in communication with the NYS and Erie County Departments of Health to gather an understanding of the guidelines and to ensure we met all the requirements needed to obtain the Limited Service Laboratory (LSL) certification. This certification allows individual schools to test and to obtain results on site. We reached out to the Diocese for assistance in designating a Medical Director for our school as required by the LSL application guidelines. They indicated there would be no financial or medical support for this endeavor and that each individual school was on their own to work through the licensing process. We then contacted Buffalo Public Schools, as our nurse is contracted and assigned to us through their district. The response we received was that since BPS students were fully remote they would not be pursuing the testing option and would be unable to assist in procuring a testing license. Neither of these responses were immediate. Local public districts we contacted had already decided to implement fully virtual instruction for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, we contacted local pediatricians’ offices, the head nurse at a local college, and other establishments for assistance in obtaining or sharing an LSL license. None of these avenues resulted in assistance to help us to complete the application process quickly and safely under the guidelines. Finally, we were able to meet with a local physician who is part of our school community who indicated their willingness to help with the application and serve as our medical director. This doctor was required to provide their medical license and sign on to oversee testing at St. Mark School should we be approved as an LSL testing site. The application was submitted by St. Mark School to New York State last week and the waiting period is said to be 2-3 weeks. Schools are hoping the State fast-tracks the approval process to decrease wait time.
We are aware that some other schools in Erie County have partnered with local pharmacies or agencies. However, this avenue has associated costs that would require reimbursement by individual families. The State and County have indicated that by becoming an LSL, our school would receive the tests for free. Even when the test kits are received by schools, the testing of 100% of students and staff is a monumental process that will require the assistance of more than one school nurse and a doctor. We are working out the logistics of where, when and how the testing would take place on site. We are also developing a system for organizing the test results and communicating the positive and negative outcomes to families.
After the testing of 100% of students and staff is completed, 25% of in-person students would have to be tested each week with no opt-out clause for parents due to the requirement of a random population sample tested each week. According to our last survey, nearly 100 of our students would not have permission to participate in testing. This fact would result in a change in instruction for students who would continue as Distance Learners, as teachers would be engaged full time with in-person instruction. In-person instruction would remain two days per week per cohort unless NYS and the CDC revise their social distancing requirements imposed on all schools.
We will continue to seek out other testing options as we await LSL approval. The State and the Governor’s office are continually updating the requirements for Orange Zones and each day brings conflicting facts and information that we must adjust to in order to meet mandates.
As in our present political climate, social media is oftentimes used to spread misguided opinions, misinformation and negative sentiments. There are members of a school community Facebook group who are doing just that. They do not understand the mandates and requirements that are put on individual schools and share misinformation that results in unneeded anxiety and stress for other families and school staff during an already stressful period of time when the COVID-19 rates are increasing within our local community.
As we have done with our Reopening Plan, the introduction of the Hybrid Model, the testing requirements and the transition to fully remote Distance Learning, we will continue to provide the most transparent information to our school community.
Our teachers will continue working diligently to provide instruction under our fully remote Distance Learning model until the LSL application is approved or until NYS guidelines are revised to allow for a different instructional model.
R. Clemens & H. McCarthy