(Updated December 30) With COVID cases on the rise in Westchester, many parents were wondering what will happen when schools reopen on January 3, 2022. Will the district use testing to keep kids in school or shorten quarantine times for those who contract COVID?
A memo from the NYS Department of Health released on December 23, 2021 provides new guidance for schools and endorses, among other strategies, a test to stay policybfor unvaccinated students and staff. You can read the entire memo here:
The memo provides many tactics that districts can use to keep schools in session while the COVID crisis continues.
Here are just a few of the new provisions:
Test to Stay
One of the new provision says, “NYSDOH supports test to stay (TTS) as a strategy that allows asymptomatic unvaccinated school-based close contacts (e.g. students, teachers, school staff) to avoid school exclusion (but not other restrictions of quarantine) by testing negative through serial testing using rapid NAAT or antigen tests during a seven-day period following exposure.
The memo specifies that those who are vaccinated do not need to quarantine after exposure, unless they have symptoms. This would greatly reduce the number of students in quarantine.
It also shortens the quarantine for those who contracted COVID if they can show a negative test. It says, “When diagnostic testing resources are sufficient and available, then quarantine can end after Day 7 if a diagnostic specimen tests negative and if no symptoms were reported during daily monitoring.”
For those hoping for a reprieve from mask mandates for students, the new guidelines offer no change. It says, “mask breaks” in indoor instructional settings are not permitted. When students are eating, drinking, singing or p laying a wind instrument, they can remove their mask but must be six feet apart.
The Scarsdale Schools administration reviewed the new guidance and issued the following memo to the community on December 30, 2021.
Here is the email from Dr. Thomas Hagerman:
Dear Scarsdale Community,
Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a safe and relaxing holiday. We will be returning to school on January 3rd, and in advance of this, there is a lot of important information to share with you. I ask that you please read this email in its entirety.
First and foremost, we believe our students need to continue to experience school in person. We have, and will continue to, adjust and adapt our mitigation efforts to minimize the risk of exposure and spread of COVID-19. Our goal is to keep our schools open and safe. However, two scenarios could impact this decision at this time: (1) public health authorities or the Governor closes down schools; or (2) we are unable to safely and effectively staff our classes and/or schools due to required quarantines or isolation. Further information is provided below, explaining what to expect should either of these situations arise.
As a public school system, we cannot require COVID-19 testing in order for students to attend school. However, we do ask that students who have traveled over break or who are not feeling well get tested before returning to classes on Monday. Students who are not feeling well should not come to school.
Over the past many weeks, COVID-19 metrics have dramatically increased in Westchester County along with the rest of the country. As of this morning, Westchester has 224.3 cases per 100k people, an infection rate of 1.51%, and a positivity rate of 12.4%. These numbers are concerning, as they are as high as they have been during the pandemic. That being said, 91.1% of the County have received a first dose of the vaccine, and 75.6% of the population have been fully-vaccinated. Additionally, hospitalizations and deaths remain far below those that we experienced during previous surges in the virus, especially for those who are vaccinated. We continue to encourage all of our community members to get vaccinated and receive their booster shots as soon as they are able to do so.
State Guidance Changes:
(1) Universal Masking - “universal masking continues to be required of teachers, staff, students, and visitors to P-12 schools, regardless of vaccination status. Mask breaks are no longer allowed during the school day and there is no exception to the masking requirement on the basis of minimal social distancing (e.g., 3 feet or 6 feet) in classrooms…[moreover] masks are required at any gathering on school grounds which addresses or implements educational matters where students are or may reasonably be expected to be present. (NYS DOH Guidelines)
Implications for Scarsdale Schools:
(A) Masks will need to be worn at all times--indoors and outdoors--except when students are eating lunch (socially distanced).
(B) We are asking everyone on any of our school campuses to wear a mask, including parents at drop off and pick up.
(C) Per this new guidance, mask breaks will be discontinued until further notice.
(D) Snack time at elementary schools is being postponed until further notice.
(E) All staff will be furnished with KN-95 masks. All students are encouraged to wear KN-95 masks or close-fitting, high-quality masks.
(2) 5 Day Isolation for Employees (This does not apply to students.) - The CDC recently changed their recommendations for those diagnosed with COVID-19, reducing the isolation period to 5 days. Despite this, we are governed by the NYS Department of Health, which adopts its own rules, informed by CDC and other recommendations. On December 24, 2021, the NYS Department of Health released guidance that reduced the isolation period for essential employees only. All public school employees fall into this category, including teachers. According to the NYS DOH, the isolation period for all students diagnosed with COVID-19 is still 10 days.
(3) Test-to-Stay - Just prior to the December break, the NYS Health Department also allowed Districts to implement a “test to stay” program allowing unvaccinated close contacts of COVID-19 positive individuals to continue to attend school if they receive a negative antigen test the morning prior to attending. This exemption to quarantine only allows students to attend classes, these students must maintain all other quarantine measures including avoiding in-home spread and not attending after-school programs including sports. The District will be implementing this program as soon as we receive the tests, which we expect in the coming weeks. Given our high vaccination rate, this program will only impact a relatively small number of students given that only unvaccinated students must quarantine when exposed to COVID-19. We will be sending further details once we receive the tests and are able to begin the program.
(4) Test-Out-of-Quarantine - Also prior to the December break, the NYS Health Department granted local health departments the autonomy to implement a test out of quarantine program according to the CDC recommendations. Currently, the Westchester County Department of Health has not implemented the ability to test out of quarantine after day 7. School districts are specifically restricted in NYS from allowing a test out without the local departments of health. We expect additional information on this from the WCDOH and will follow whatever procedures they put in place if they choose to adopt a test out of quarantine procedure.
(5) Return for Symptomatic Students and Staff - Given the current difficulty in obtaining PCR testing for those students who experience symptoms and require testing to return to school, the District will ALSO accept two, negative antigen tests (at-home or lab-based) for any vaccinated individual to return to school. Unvaccinated individuals must still provide a negative, lab-based PCR result.
The District will continue to work with Mt. Sinai and Verbosity for weekly screening testing. We will be testing all those who have signed up for testing the week we return. Tests will be handed out Tuesday, January 4, 2022, and collected on January 5, 2022.
Later this evening, Verbosity will send an invitation to all those who have not registered for the testing. Due to Verbosity’s platform, the invitation will only come to one of your registered emails (the same one you received the previous invitations). If you are interested in signing up, please look for an email from C-19 Safety First email@example.com. For those families with more than one child, you will receive an email for each child with a unique username. Please see this enrollment FAQ if you have any questions. If you do not receive the invitation email or have difficulty signing up, please contact the emails noted in the FAQ. In order to be tested the week we return, please sign up by 9 p.m. on December 31, 2021.
Current and Additional Risk Mitigation Efforts:
The District continues to follow risk mitigation measures, including proper masking, handwashing, and respiratory etiquette. The District will continue to provide hand sanitizer and handwashing opportunities within classrooms. Teachers will continue to emphasize the need for respiratory hygiene and cleanliness, especially in the younger grades.
(1) Lunch - Lunch will proceed as in the past with 6ft social distance, except masks must be worn at all times, except when food is being ingested.
(2) Facilities - The District’s Ventilation Plan is still being implemented with all classrooms and common spaces either having MERV-13 filtered mechanical fresh air or portable HEPA filters in place. Additionally, our cleaning and disinfecting procedures remain in full effect with enhanced disinfection of surfaces and more regular cleaning of high-touch surfaces.
(3) Large Group Activities, Trips, and Visitors - Prior to the break, we announced the lessening of COVID-19 restrictions with regards to large group events, overnight field trips, and visitor policies. Given the current COVID-19 metrics, we will be reinstating the restrictions previously in effect until the end of January when we will reevaluate. These restrictions will include the elimination of spectators at sports competitions and the cancellation of any field trips scheduled during January. We hope as the current surge in cases eases, we will be able to return to more normalized practices in all of these areas.
Sports and Extracurricular Activities:
In an effort to offer extracurricular activities while COVID-19 cases are increasing, we are re-implementing strict health and safety procedures for those who chose to participate. These procedures include mask-wearing, social distancing, facility utilization, spectator restriction, and travel limits. The procedures will apply to all participants while they are on school grounds or at school-sponsored activities. More details about these procedures will be communicated to the community as relevant.
Regents Exams for January are Canceled:
The New York State Education Department is canceling the January 2022 administration of the New York State High School Regents Examination Program in response to the ongoing impact of the COVID–19 pandemic. This link provides additional information.
The District intends to continue the current quarantine instruction plan as communicated on September 29, 2021. The only change at this time will be at Scarsdale High School, where passive live streaming will be open to students who are under a mandated order of isolation or quarantine. Mr. Bonamo will be sending a communication to students and parents with more information.
At the beginning of the year, we prepared an emergency remote instruction plan for each level in the event of a whole class, school-wide, or District-wide closure due to COVID-19. This plan will only be implemented in the event the State initiates a mandate to close schools or the number of quarantined staff impacts our ability to safely staff a classroom, a grade, a school, and/or our District. The student schedules were developed utilizing the most effective practices from our last closure to maximize student learning, connection, and engagement. The specifics of these plans will be communicated through building leadership and classroom teachers in the event they are needed.
In closing, it is imperative that our community continues to work together and follow our risk mitigation efforts, both in school and at home. This is critical to keep everyone safe and our schools open. As always, we thank you for your support and cooperation in these efforts.
Dr. Thomas Hagerman
Superintendent of Schools