A new school year, more Covid challenges in Glen Cove

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The Glen Cove City School District has had a rough start to the new academic year, with flood damage and the lingering impact of the pandemic, but nearly a month in, the schools are beginning to run more smoothly. While students at all four elementary buildings returned as scheduled on Sept. 2, flooding from Hurricane Ida caused delayed reopenings at Glen Cove High School and Finley Middle School, and high school students returned a week later than planned.

“We had flooding in three buildings,” Victoria Galante, assistant superintendent for business, said at the Sept. 22 Board of Education meeting, “and the high school took the brunt of the storm.”

The high school had more than five feet of water in the basement, Galante said, and it was three feet deep in the boiler room. “We had put in new expansion tanks at the high school two days earlier,” she said, “and now they need to be reinstalled.”

Some of the district’s sidewalks and parking lots were damaged in the storm, and flooring at the high school had to be replaced. The middle school gym foundation has since been sealed with rubberized tar, Galante said, to prevent water from getting in. She also said that the district was working with the city to submit claims to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Superintendent Dr. Maria Rianna said the district was able to prioritize the cleanup in order to open the high school a week later, and would continue necessary repairs over the next few weeks. “I want to stress that we had to deal with this during a shortage of supplies,” Rianna said. “Some of the floors had to be repaired, and asbestos testing was done in a timely manner. I have to say what an amazing job the company and our crew did working together. It was really a cooperative effort.”

 

Covid concerns

The pandemic continues to challenges the district. Requiring all students to be in the buildings full time, without a remote learning option, has raised more questions about the district’s quarantine and testing policies, which were addressed at the board meeting. Dr. Kim Rodriguez, assistant superintendent for human resources, presented the current Covid guidelines, which include a decision-making flow chart that is posted on the district website.

“When I came to the district, I inherited Covid,” Rodriguez said, noting that she joined the staff in January. “I’ve learned a lot, and we all know that things have changed. We got lots of guidance early on from the Nassau County Department of Health and the New York State Department of Education, but it’s quieted down.”

This year the quarantine period is 10 days instead of 14. Rodriguez explained that if a student or district employee has been exposed to the coronavirus, the day the district receives that information is considered day zero. “We count out 10 days from there,” she said, “and they can exit the quarantine on the 11th day.”

Rianna pointed out that the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are not always the same as the state’s or Nassau County’s, and the district follows the county’s guidelines for quarantining contacts, which can change from day to day.

“We usually get info from the county Department of Health when it changes,” Rianna said. “It’s not cut and dried, but specific questions are not unusual, and we use the DOH to help guide us through.”

Those who test positive for the virus follow the directions of their health care provider, she said.

Rodriguez said that the majority of quarantines so far this school year have involved younger, unvaccinated students. Vaccinated people who are exposed do not have to quarantine unless they show symptoms. And there is no “test out” option to reduce the quarantine period.

Anyone who has symptoms of Covid-19 must stay home from school. To return, they must provide a negative PCR test or remain in quarantine for 10 days.

Many of the students who have had to quarantine this year have been deemed contacts due to potential exposure on the school bus.

“Right now, we don’t have info on who sat where, or how crowded the bus is,” Rodriguez said, “so we must quarantine the entire bus.”

However, she said, the district is working on creating seating charts to reduce disruption and identify the proximity of the contact. Once students have assigned seats, she said, only those within a certain radius will be deemed contacts.

For sports, Rodriguez said, all mandates have been lifted, so athletes are treated like any other contacts. “It’s not automatic quarantine if child on a team tests positive,” she said. “It depends on the nature of the sport.”

Rodriguez said that a student who is waiting for the results of a PCR test, even if he or she has tested negative with a rapid test, should remain at home. “If a child has been identified as a contact or is exhibiting any symptoms which led you to get the rapid test,” she said, “please keep them home until you get the results of the PCR test. People could be exposed in the meantime.”

 

Quarantine disruptions

With no remote learning option this year, board trustees expressed concern that students forced to quarantine are not getting the same level of instruction, or might be penalized for their long absences.

“I’m very concerned about what I’m hearing about students on buses and in the upper schools,” Trustee Karen Ferguson said, “that students are home, with no instruction.”

Rianna replied that she had met with representatives of the Glen Cove Teachers Association to discuss the situation, and noted that teachers post assignments on Google Classroom and can be emailed directly for additional support. “We’re trying to put something in place so a subject area teacher is available to provide support during that period of time,” Rianna said. “It’s not remote instruction; it’s support. We have to be consistent in how we provide that.”

Trustee Maureen Jimenez asked about the policy for absences due to quarantine. “Has any thought gone behind the way absences are marked?” she asked.

“We are documenting the reason for the absence,” Riana said, “so the child record shows a more transparent record of why the child is not in school.”

Ferguson said she had heard of parents allowing their child to play on sports teams while in quarantine, and asked if parents of students who are quarantined receive a letter explaining the rules of quarantine. “I’m saddened to know we can’t shorten it,” she said. “I think it’s a hardship. But I think some parents need to be reminded of the rules.”

Rianna reiterated the importance of communication between parents and the schools. “We need parents to work with our schools,” she said. “You don’t want to chance exposing others.”

Staff, students and community members can get tested for Covid-19 at the high school on Tuesdays and Fridays from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Having the lab come to the school helps the district meet the state mandate of either providing proof of vaccination or being tested weekly.

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