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Area School Chiefs Stress Transparency In COVID-19 Reporting

As the school year continues, school districts across Chautauqua County are doing their best to be as transparent as possible in alerting their school communities of any positive cases of COVID-19.

Bemus Point Central School District utilized text alerts to direct parents to the district’s website on Saturday in announcing that two students — one at the elementary school and one at Maple Grove Junior-Senior High School — had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

On Sunday, Superintendent Joe Reyda announced on the district’s website that the elementary school would transition to remote learning starting Monday until Friday, Nov. 6 after 11 elementary school teachers were placed under precautionary quarantine.

Bemus Point was not the only school district tasked with making such a decision this weekend: a positive case from a School No. 7 staff member in the Dunkirk City School District and exposure to three teachers at Silver Creek Elementary School forced both buildings to transition to remote learning until Wednesday.

But during a Zoom call with parents on Monday afternoon, Reyda explained that the district did not have enough substitute teachers to continue in-person instruction in the interim period. Affected staff members will not end their isolation periods until the middle of next week.

“This is not something we chose to do very lightly,” he said on the call. “This is something that we felt we needed to do for the safety of all of our students in the elementary school. We want all of our kids back in person and as soon as we can do that, we will.”

Reyda said the isolation orders were made after the Chautauqua County Health Department asked the district to provide contact tracing information.

“The county requested that we send them information regarding each individual’s daily schedule; a list of who they interacted with during the day; amount of time they were with each person,” he said. “They were looking at whether to see if they were within 6 feet of a case for 10 consecutive minutes or whether they were in a classroom or conference setting for 60 minutes or more. That’s how that happened.”

Reyda said that the teachers span across grade levels at the elementary school.

“What really was a big factor was the fact that we had so many teachers out from so many different grade levels,” he said. “If we get a situation where it affects one grade level as opposed to the entire school, that’s something we would take a look at.”

During the call, one parent expressed concern that the district’s updated infection numbers had not yet been reflected on the state’s school report card website, located at schoolcovidreportcard.health.ny.gov. Reyda explained it is all a part of the timing of his daily report to the state.

“This is something that we report on every day,” he said.

In a conversation with The Post-Journal last week, Southwestern Central School Superintendent Maureen Donahue explained the process of reporting the infection numbers.

“If the case is reported to us from the county Health Department at noon or before, it’s reported on the website the day of,” she said. “If it happens after 12 p.m. then it’s reported the following day.”

She said that she reports all health referrals and cases to the state on a daily basis. Notices have even gone out on the weekend, she explained.

“Sometimes the report is filed by 2 or 3, if it’s not verified by 12, it’s verified the next day by the health department and it’s reported on the report card,” she said. “The day of a positive case, or as soon as we are able, we report to every family when there is a positive case by sending a letter through email. Any student or staff member, an email notification goes out to all of our staff and we do have an email address for every person in this district.”

Donahue said that her district alerts families via email and did so almost two weeks ago when two students on-site at Southwestern Senior High School were reported. An elementary school teacher had tested positive the week prior.

“With the new cases, the one case had no exposure in our buildings. … The other one did have exposure,” she said. “We did have to do contact tracing which has been completed immediately. Our first goal is to make sure we’re working with all of our individuals involved. We notify all the individuals involved and they all work directly with the health department. Once that’s arranged, we make notification to staff and to all of our families.”

Administrators, including herself, are also available to the Chautauqua County Health Department 24/7, she explained.

“We understand this is serious and we want to make sure we want to stop the spread,” she said. “We’ll do everything possible to keep everyone safe. Our staff that is involved in contact tracing is available 24/7 to the health department. The health department has been phenomenal with us and they get daily district updates.”

She added, “The sooner we can mitigate any exposure is helpful. We’re hoping that we have availability in the future in increased rapid testing.”

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