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GESD seeks parents’ consent

GLOVERSVILLE — The Gloversville Enlarged School District is acting now to secure parental consent to implement coronavirus testing of students to prepare for a possible mandate from the state.

Ahead of the holiday recess, parents received permission slips for students attending school under the district’s hybrid attendance model to undergo regular coronavirus surveillance testing to continue in-person instruction if required by the state.

Superintendent David Halloran on Thursday estimated that just under 20 percent of district students returned completed consent forms following the resumption of school on Jan. 4.

“Not as many as we would like but we have several hundred,” said Halloran.

Halloran acknowledged in hindsight that the timing of sending permission slips home before the week and a half long holiday break was less than ideal and the district on Monday issued another letter asking parents to return the consent forms.

“We are not required to test for COVID-19 as of today, but if that changes we want to be positioned to keep our doors open for instruction,” the letter states.

GESD has issued the consent forms to get ahead of expectations that the state could soon impose a COVID zone designation on the region requiring schools to rollout regular coronavirus testing to remain open for in-person instruction based on elevated coronavirus case counts locally.

The Cluster Action Initiative announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in October initially called for coronavirus restrictions by varying color-coded levels to be imposed on geographic regions when coronavirus positivity rates remained above certain thresholds over defined monitoring periods. The metrics to receive a COVID designation were updated in mid-December to include hospitalization rates as infection rates statewide climbed after Thanksgiving.

Restrictions under a yellow or orange COVID zones each include additional capacity limits on businesses and public and private gatherings. Entering a red zone is equivalent to the state shutdown ordered in March. Schools located within a COVID zone at any level could remain open for in-person instruction by meeting weekly testing requirements of 20 percent of in-person students and faculty under the two lower levels and 30 percent under a red zone.

According to data on the New York Forward early monitoring online dashboard, the Mohawk Valley region is currently inching towards a possible designation with a seven-day positivity rate of 9.9 percent as of Monday and only 26 percent of all hospital beds available and just 19 percent of hospital intensive care unit beds available.

Currently, a yellow zone designation may be handed out with positivity rates above 3 percent for regions in the top 10 in the state for hospital admissions per capita experiencing week-over-week growth. An orange zone may be leveled when positivity rates top 4 percent and hospital capacity is at 85 percent or above or if the state Department of Health determines a region’s hospital admission rate is unacceptably high.

A red zone will be leveled when, after the cancellation of elective procedures and a 50 percent increase in hospital capacity, a region is 21 days away from reaching 90 percent hospital capacity.

Although Fulton County within the Mohawk Valley to date has not been under a COVID zone designation and schools within the county have therefore not had to implement coronavirus testing in order to continue in-person instruction, another change recently announced by the state likely means testing requirements are coming soon.

Cuomo during the Jan. 4 coronavirus briefing announced that school districts in counties with positivity rates above 9 percent will be required to implement regular coronavirus testing in order to continue providing in-person learning. Results must come in below the positivity rate from the community for schools to remain open.

“It is up to the local school district to make that decision. My position has always been if the children are safer in the school than they are on the streets of the community, then children should be in school,” stated Cuomo.

The seven-day positivity rate in Fulton County reported by the state DOH as of Monday stood at 11.9 percent.

Halloran on Thursday said the district is not yet prepared to roll out school testing, currently waiting to receive testing kits that are expected as early as this week. GESD ordered rapid test kits from the state DOH that are non-invasive and provide results within 15 minutes.

“It is not invasive at all. It’s not a swab deep into the nasal cavity, it’s just a sweep of the lower nostril,” said Halloran.

The district plans to record and release a video showing a member of the school community undergoing the test once kits are received to reassure parents about what students will be subjected to as part of its renewed bid to collect additional permission slips.

Halloran confirmed that the district will not seek to implement testing until and unless it is required by the state to allow in-person learning to continue. The superintendent in recent months has committed to keeping schools open for in-person instruction under the hybrid attendance model to the extent possible to provide the best learning environment for students available under current coronavirus restrictions.

“The fact that we are only getting kids in half the time as it is already, we know is not optimal,” said Halloran. “The governor knows schools are a safe place to be and the best place to receive an education. In-person learning is undoubtedly the best option.”

Although the district has observed confirmed positive coronavirus cases among districts students and staff this school year, Halloran noted that to date none of those cases have led to the transmission of any additional infections within schools. The superintendent further suggested that the results of coronavirus testing by the district if required will further support his assertion that current health safety precautions are effective in maintaining the safety of students and staff on school campuses.

“We believe schools are safe, we encourage parents to send their students to school. It is important. Students are not contracting the coronavirus here; they are not going to catch it here and bring it home. That is not just in Gloversville, that is across the state, across the nation and across the world,” said Halloran. “There is a track record of safety in our schools and in others that tells me it is safe to be here. If that changes, we will change how we operate and how we approach that issue.”

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