After a 5-4 vote by the Blue Ridge School Board, students will be returning to campus for four days of in-person instruction, effective Monday, Oct. 19. Currently the district is following a schedule that splits students into two groups, providing in-person instruction for each group two days per week, with Wednesday being a remote learning day.
The vote followed a lengthy discussion by the board, including input from members of the community, as well as information provided by health care professionals.
Board member Chris Lewis made a motion to return all students to in-person instruction on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, with Wednesdays remaining a remote learning day and providing time for a deep cleaning of the schools.
In addition to Lewis, board members voting in favor of the change included Brooke Slocum, Ed Arnold, Mindi Carr, and Daniel Laude.
Those voting against the move included board president Jessica Wright, Christina Cosmello, Joseph Andusko, and Michael Ksenich.
Blue Ridge bussing will also return to a one-tier system, with additional buses added as needed to reduce the number of students on certain buses. The motion passed in a 6-1 vote with Ksenich voting no, and Slocum and Cosmello abstaining.
The board also unanimously approved an indoor spectator plan.
Motion #3 – motion to approve indoor spectator plan as presented.
Prior to the votes and in response to a questioned emailed to the district, Superintendent Matthew Button provided an overview of pros and cons – as provided by the principals – of both the hybrid and in-person instructional models.
Button said the feedback he received was that in-person instructional time is the most effective educational model, and it also eased childcare issues for families. As for negatives, they noted a loss of the ability to have social distancing, along with challenges of managing.
The blended model (which is Blue Ridge’s current instructional model) allows for small students groups and high compliance with pandemic-related protocols.
Button, along with board members, discussed the district’s ability to meet Dept. of Education social distancing guidelines, as well as how to meet challenges that will happen with all students back on campus. The Blue Ridge School District has a single cafeteria that is utilized by all K-12 students.
Button said the district has been working on the lunchroom issue since the previous board meetings, and could look to stagger lunches, as well as look to alternate locations that could be utilized.
The board also called on health care professionals to provide insight regarding the more full return of students to classrooms.
School nurse Kathy Andusko said that, to date, student illnesses and injuries are down from last year’s numbers. She said that with more students in the building, there would be more.
She also noted the school is seeing more students stay home if they are sick, “which is what we are asking,” Andusko said.
“I think our numbers would be much higher with full students in classes,” she said. “Once children are in close proximity, the numbers are going to go up dramatically.”
She also noted that the wearing of face masks, along with distancing, could be having the impact of decreasing student illness.
Barnes-Kasson Executive Vice President David Passetti spoke only to testing trends and positivity rates.
He said COVID-19 is now infecting more of a younger population, with more positives in people from their late teens to early 40s. Symptoms are also more mild, he said, with all being treated on an outpatient bases since July.
Right now, Passetti said, they are not seeing a lot of cases – but their have been bumps in COVID, including the BK Skilled Nursing Facility earlier this year, as well as one from another congregate setting that occurred in July-August.
Barnes-Kasson has administered 2,000 tests; and only three positive cases in September and all of those were younger people, he said.
Passetti said Barnes-Kasson is testing very freely and is capable of doing same-day testing especially for what could be a high-impact case. The turnaround time on testing for asymptomatic people is about two days, he said.
Dr. Kirk Hinkley, a physician with Barnes-Kasson in the Hallstead office, told the board that the severity of COVID-19 goes down as the age of children goes down. As people approach age 20 or above, the risk factors go up, he said.
He used Penn State University as an example, stating a number of positive cases, with students congregating in closer proximity than school age students, but said there had been no hospitalizations.
He also cited a JAMA study on COVID-19 susceptibility. “It’s really not the kids you have to worry about,” Dr. Hinkley said. He said the main worry would be for teachers and staff, as well as students’ families at home. But, he said, data is not pointing to seeing schools carrying the disease home and giving it to people who could become sicker.
Dr. Hinkley said the children often do not have the symptoms of COVID-19 that easily pass the disease on, such as coughing.