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SWCS Board Discusses COVID; Return To School

Taking Precautions

Southwestern Central School Superintendent Maureen Donahue greets students on the playground on the first day of school on Tuesday. P-J photo by Cameron Hurst

With most schools across Chautauqua County back in session, a flow chart constructed by the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services to map out the COVID-19 screening process was a topic of discussion at this week’s meeting of the Southwestern Central School District’s board of education.

The chart, discussed by Superintendent Maureen Donahue, is broken down into different sections, measuring the various circumstances in which a student would not be able to attend school out of caution of precaution.

“We’re working through some of this,” she said. “These are health department guidelines and they are what we’re following.

If a child has traveled to one of the states listed on the state’s “high risk travel” list, then they have to remain home for 14 days since the date of return, as per the public health quarantine order, even if they test negative for COVID-19. Other areas in which a child cannot attend school are classified as “exposure,” “diagnosis,” or “at least 1 symptom” on the chart.

If a student has been exposed to the virus, they will also be held to the public health quarantine order, Donahue said.

“For example, if somebody walked in through the door here tonight, stayed by that door and I test positive, that person would not be considered exposed because he’s not within six feet,” she said. “If you are exposed and have been within less than six feet and have been around that case for more than 10 minutes, there’s a whole thing that the health department will use — that child has to stay home for 14 days.”

If a student is diagnosed with COVID, then the child will remain home for 10 days since the first positive test because they would have surpassed the pre-symptomatic phase by that point.

The classification that will be the hardest, Donahue noted, is if a student is showing “at least one symptom,” according to the chart.

“It’s only if you have at least one symptom and they are new symptoms,” she said. “If I’m a child where I have allergy medicine, I constantly have a runny nose, I’m constantly having a sore throat due to allergies, that is not a new symptom. It doesn’t mean we’re not going to screen for that, but we’ve got to be careful because we have a lot of kids that tackle medical that we have to be in tune about.”

If the child has at least one new symptom — a fever, chills, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, a new loss of taste or smell, cough, headache, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle or body aches — then they must stay home for 10 days if no COVID test is performed. If a COVID test is performed, is negative and a child has had no fever of 100.4 degrees or more for at least 24 hours without use of fever-reducing medicine, then the child can return to school.

The discussion was timely: New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced during a press briefing Tuesday that schools would need to start reporting COVID-related statistics.

“We have to report COVID-related information daily by building — staff, kids, any kids who have been tested, any adults who have been tested and then if they tested positive,” she said. “Each district will get a school report card. I think what it is is that they’ll create a dashboard for schools that says ‘Southwestern Elementary School’s infection rate is x.’ I think that’s what they’re looking for. It’s some transparency for all of us which is not a bad thing. We will begin to do that.”

Tuesday’s meeting also coincided with the first day of school — the district is using a hybrid model, splitting families up into “Red” and “Blue” cohorts.

“It was great to have kids back in the building,” Donahue said. “They looked pretty excited, too. We didn’t have one complaint today about wearing a mask. The kids were really, really good about it. Even on the playground today for the little kiddos, it was hot out there. I would’ve thought they would have played with them or that type of thing and they didn’t.”

She also explained the process by which elementary school students are able to eat lunch while using safety precautions within a recently renovated cafetorium.

“The elementary cafetorium looks as good as it can during this,” she said. “In the cafeteria, what they did was they took the round tables and ordered the Plexiglas-like material and made it to fit those tables. Each kid has a little star on their seat, it’s the only place they’re allowed to sit at the tables. Four kids to a table and then there’s long tables and they have them spaced out. They use that entire space. The tables are six feet from each other and it’s working really well.”

Donahue said that administrators are also making sure students are able to get outside onto the playground.

“(Assistant Principal) Matt (Kindberg) has done a really great job of scheduling classes on the playgrounds,” she said. “Every kid gets on the playground every 45 minutes. They’ve got hand sanitizing stations out there and we use two cleaners. There are sanitizing stations in every hallway where if somebody came by they could use it. It’s just all working well so far.”

She added, “We’re all trying to do the right things by the kids to make sure they’re safe and hope that they can get through this.”

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