COVID-19 UPDATE: HCSD super meets with Regents chancellor

HUDSON–School superintendents and county officials should have authority to decide local measures for confronting the coronavirus, a group of superintendents told Chancellor Betty A. Rosa of the New York State Board of Regents at a meeting in Albany March 3.

In addition, Columbia County school districts have sent out statements telling parents and community members about the “proactive measures” they are taking to confront the coronavirus and listing the state Department of Health’s recommendations for minimizing “the spread of all respiratory viruses, including” coronavirus.

At the meeting with Chancellor Rosa, education officials favored local authority over statewide “blanket requirements,” because conditions might vary from region to region, according to one of the meeting participants, Hudson City School District Superintendent Maria L. Suttmeier.

Speaking at the Hudson City School Board meeting later that same day, Dr. Suttmeier said issues participants at the Rosa meeting raised included:

• If schools must close for a time, how will that effect the 180-day school year requirement?

• If a school must close during Regents test week, what happens to the tests?

• Are the district and its families prepared for large-scale distance learning?

• What if a staff member must be absent and the district has nobody to take over?

On Monday, March 9 Governor Andrew Cuomo issued “updated guidance” for schools and COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus. The guidance reads in part, “When a student or staff member attended school prior to being confirmed as a COVID-19 case, New York State Department of Health requires an initial 24-hour closure, in order to begin an investigation to determine the contacts that the individual may have had within the school environment. That investigation will inform the plan determined by the local department of health as to any further required closure, or other necessary precautions to take for specific classrooms, or for specific individuals. Such plan must recommend actions for future positive COVID-19 cases as well.

“During that initial 24-hour closure the school shall immediately take steps to disinfect the school building(s) where the student or staff had contact prior to testing positive for COVID-19. That disinfection must be in accordance with NYS DOH guidelines and must be complete before accepting returning students.”

On Tuesday, March10 the governor announced the imposition of a “containment area” in the Westchester County City of New Rochelle. The area covers schools and other public gathering spaces, including churches and synagogues and follows an outbreak of the coronavirus. The area will remain in place at least through March 25 and National Guard troops have been called in to disinfect schools and other buildings and to assist in delivering food.

The state Department of Health recommendations, as reported in recent letters from Columbia County school district superintendents to their communities, include:

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds

• Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are not available

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands

• Avoid close contact with sick people

• Stay home when you or your child is sick, especially with a fever or cough

• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing. If you use a tissue, throw it in the trash

• Routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The statements also include a hotline to call with questions “about travel and symptoms.” The number is 888 364-3065.

The following are excerpts from the statements issued last week to the respective communities of three school superintendents in the county:

Dr. Sal DeAngelo, Chatham: “Our schools will continue to be vigilant with the proactive measures we take during cold and flu season to avoid the spread of illness. This includes regularly disinfecting frequently touched surfaces and reminding our students and staff to wash their hands often. I would also like to remind our parents to keep your children home from school if they are sick.”

Dr. Neil Howard Jr., Taconic Hills: “The district is monitoring the situation and following guidance from [health and education departments]…. The district has infectious disease protocols in place and has been focused on cleaning and disinfecting all school areas, including classrooms, cafeterias and school buses…. At this time, there is no need to cancel school or social events. With that said, our administrative team is… discussing plans in the event that schools were to be closed or there were a high level of student absences. We are considering various scenarios.”

Dr. Suttmeier: “The district has infectious disease controls in place. Our staff continues to clean and disinfect all school areas, including high-touch and high-traffic areas….”

The state Education Department website page with schools policy news releases is http://www.nysed.gov/news/2020 .

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