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As Students Return, Local Schools Test the State’s “Test-to-Stay” Strategy

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January 3, 2022

By Barrett Seaman–

With a plan in hand and fingers crossed, schools in the rivertowns—both public and private—are plowing into the unknown of a new year as the Omicron variant races through their communities. So far, it is something less than a smooth start.

The plan, conceived by the State Department of Health and announced by Governor Kathy Hochul just as 2021 came to an end, relies on testing and an abbreviated quarantine period based on recent guidance from the CDC. Hochul’s goal is to keep as many students in school as possible under a “Test-to-Stay” policy. Instead of sending everybody home if one student tests positive, under Test-to-Stay, classmates of the infected student then take a COVID test kit home with them and stay home only if they test positive. The second part of the plan reduces the quarantine period for those who are sick from ten days to five—assuming they are no longer symptomatic. Said Hochul: “It’s all about keeping kids in school.”

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Getting them to school—along with their teachers, coaches and bus drivers—is another matter. On Sunday evening, Tarrytown’s district learned that 53 employees would not be able to make it in on Monday, either because they tested positive for COVID or were quarantining because of exposure. By Monday morning, according to Superintendent Chris Borsari, that number had jumped to 93, and by afternoon, it was 101. Recognizing that it was impossible to run a school with nearly a fifth of the staff out, Borsari sent out a memo to Tarrytown families announcing that all the schools would revert to remote learning for the remainder of the week and return to school on Monday, January 10th. “Based on everything we see,” said Borsari, “we should be okay next week.”

Given the speed with which Omicron spreads, that may yet prove illusive. Kids were sent home Monday afternoon with portable SalivaClear testing kits to be self-administered and returned to the school on Tuesday, with results expected Wednesday. A handful of positive tests would not pose a threat to the plan, but what if hundreds of kids test positive?

Borsari also admits that he is “apprehensive” about the new five-day quarantine limit. To be sure, the strategy stipulates that students must be asymptomatic in order to emerge from quarantine, but full recovery or an accurate diagnosis may not be so clear cut.

Irvington and Dobbs Ferry school districts have so far escaped crippling staff shortages. “Fortunately, we do not have the same level of staff absences at this point in time,” reports Irvington Superintendent, Dr. Kris Harrison. “Our plans continue to support in-person learning.” Administrators there are closely watching the positive rates in the larger community. “If the rate in the schools significantly exceeds that in the community,” Harrison adds, “we will consider remote options or other approaches to student attendance.”

Dobbs Ferry’s Superintendent, Dr. Lisa Brady declares that her schools are “all in…and hoping to stay that way.” Like Tarrytown, these districts received their allotment of test kits from the state via the county. They plan to use them in implementing Test-to-Stay.

Following a slightly different path, the private Masters School in Dobbs Ferry is tiptoeing into the winter term, teaching remotely from Tuesday, January 4 through Thursday and using the time to do pool testing of its student body. If results show a low positivity rate, they will resume classes on Friday, the 7th. Students who tested positive during the Christmas break will not be included in the pool.

Other additional precautions at Masters, which is split roughly half and half between day students and boarding students, include dividing lunch into two servings to prevent overcrowding, holding all-school meetings on Zoom, barring use of common rooms in the dormitories and not allowing boarders to leave campus unless visiting a local guardian. As they have since the beginning of the pandemic, all students are required to wear masks, except when eating or, for boarders, in the privacy of their rooms.

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