From the Superintendent | COVID-19 closure decisions explained

Hello Tri-Valley! I hope this finds you and your families well!

I have been told that there is some confusion regarding what happens when a student or staff member receives a positive test for COVID-19 and how the school district reacts with regards to a closure. I wanted to take this opportunity to walk everyone through the process and hopefully explain what factors into the decision to close for a short or long period of time.

If we have a student or staff member that presents with any symptoms of COVID-19, that individual is immediately moved to a supervised isolation room and arrangements are made to have them sent home. That could be by parent pickup (in the case of a student) or they drive themselves home (in the case of a staff member or student that is permitted to drive, assuming their symptoms are minor.) They are then told to follow-up with the personal doctor of their choice. If the doctor requires them to have a COVID test, they must remain home until the results are known. This can take anywhere from 1 day (with a rapid test) to 3 to 4 days. If the test is negative the student or staff member is cleared to return to school (once we receive the formal copy of the test result.)

Please note that if a doctor recommends a COVID-19 test and the student or staff member refuses to take the test, they are presumed positive and the 14 day quarantine beings automatically.

If the student or staff member receives a positive diagnosis or is presumed positive, the follow steps occur:

  1. We immediately begin internal contact tracing. This involves determining which students or staff members were in direct contact with the individual for more than 10 minutes. This does not mean physical contact, rather, it is by location. This most likely occurs in the classroom setting but may also occur in other locations.
  2. All staff members identified as having been in close contact are notified (confidentially) by the school, updated on the situation and sent home (assuming they are safe to drive.)
  3. A list of students in direct contact is created and the school begins making phone calls to the parents of these students to alert them that their child may have been exposed.
  4. For both students and staff, they are informed that they will receive a call from the NYC Contact Tracing Unit (NYSDEH) and should cooperate fully by answering any questions they may be asked. This call will come from a number with a 518 area code.
  5. The school then contacts Sullivan County Public Health, informs them of the diagnosis, and shares the contact tracing list that was developed by the school with them. SCPH then contacts the NYS Contact Tracing Unit and shares the list with them. SCPH does not make the contact-tracing phone calls to families.

Everyone identified on the contact-tracing list will be required to quarantine for 14 days. It is Tri-Valley’s procedure that all siblings of the affected students, as well as parents (if they are a staff member) must also quarantine for the same 14 days. This goes above and beyond the recommendations of the Public Health Department, but we believe it is in the best interest of the school population to err on the side of an abundance of caution. This includes all transportation as well. Anyone tested for COVID-19 must produce an official clearance from the DOH or SCPH before readmittance to school.

To close or not to close (and for how long?)

In both of our positive cases this school year, the decision as to whether the school will close for a short or long period has been driven by the impact on the school staff. Since the students have the capability to receive remote instruction, they are not the factor driving the decision-making process. That decision is driven by the amount of staff affected.

Simply put, in the first instance the staff was so heavily impacted that it was deemed impossible to open the school and adequately provide instruction and supervision to the students. In that case we had no other option than to close the school campus for two weeks. This would allow all of the affected staff members (and students, in this case) to undergo quarantine for the 14 day window and return as the school reopened.

The second instance was different as the impact on staff was more manageable. Because this occurred on a Thursday, the school could be closed on Friday, receive a thorough cleaning and be ready to go the following Monday. Student impact was also minimal in this case.

Please note that as of Oct. 23, 2020, if a school district closes for any length of time, both Sullivan County BOCES and Sullivan County Early Intervention Services will not permit us to transport our students to their programs. These students will automatically be placed on remote instruction for the length of the closure.

So, as you can see, there are a number of moving parts that occur before any decision is made to close the school, and how long that closure should be. Our first concern is, and always has been, the safety and welfare of all of our students and staff.

As we continue into this school year, please remember the following guideline:

  1. Wear you masks, wash your hand and remain socially distant whenever possible.
  2. Avoid unnecessary travel.
  3. If any student is required to take a COVID-19 test (by doctor’s orders, for work, etc.) they must remain home until after the results of the test are known. Siblings of this student must also remain home until the test results come in. Simply notify the school of the situation and we will remain in close contact throughout the process.
  4. Take care of yourselves! Get plenty of rest, eat healthy food, enjoy as much fresh air as possible and avoid unhealthy distractions (and there are plenty of those to go around these days.)

I hope this clears up some of the mystery about how the school is dealing with COVID-19 and the impact it has on all of us. As always, I thank you for your understanding, your cooperation, and most of all, your continued support of the Tri-Valley School District!

Be well!

Mike