Chea Waters Evans, News Editor

Prior to last week, there had only been one case of COVID-19 at Charlotte Central School. On Jan. 18 and Jan. 22, CCS families received emails alerting them to the presence of a positive COVID test in the “school community.” One case was in 4th grade and one was in kindergarten, though the school didn’t specify if those cases were from a student or an adult who works with students in those grades.

CCS Co-Principal Stephanie Sumner answered questions via email about the current case count at school and Champlain Valley School District’s policies for handling them.

Is there a threshold at which the school or school district decides that there have been too many cases in too short a time and will have the entire school go to remote learning?

The matrix/ benchmarks we use for maintaining in-person learning include:

  • Positivity rates within school community rising—capacity to manage contact tracing
  • Sufficient staffing levels to safely maintain in-person instruction
  • Ability to adhere to the Department of Health/Agency of Education Safe and Healthy Guidance
  • Student attendance rates

We consider the capacity of the system (school) to maintain in-person learning at every level— individual classroom, grade level and whole school.

What is the protocol for an identified case—in the most recent case, kindergarten? Does the whole class stay home? Is there required testing? Are kids immediately remote or are there days off?

The protocol is well defined by the Department of Health in terms of how we do contact tracing. When there is a case within a specific classroom, such as the cases we’ve had, our practice is to move the whole class remote.

The AOE guidelines for grades K–6 allow students to be within three to six feet, yet contact tracing is specifically within six feet. Because of the nature of classrooms, we have pivoted the entire classroom fully remote for a focus on utmost caution, as it is difficult to track every movement in the course of a day. In the case of kindergarten, our contact tracing yielded enough information to indicate that there was possible contact across groups, so the entire grade has been identified.

When this happens, the entire classroom and/or grade goes fully remote. Teachers and staff in the classrooms may also be identified as close contacts, therefore creating a staffing impact that prohibits us from bringing students back in a staggered manner as they get negative test results. Testing seven days after the last known exposure is required for a return to school once someone is in quarantine.

There have been no days off—we have immediately gone remote in each situation. Throughout the school year, teachers have been preparing for this possibility and designed instruction, schedules and activities that are ready to go when needed.

Have there been any cases yet in CVSD of school transmission?

At this time, there is no evidence of school-based transmission in our CVSD schools. With each case, we work closely with the Department of Health (DOH) to examine any possible connections and review any specific concerns with the Epi (epidemiology) Team at the DOH. The Department of Health School Team and Epi Team have a very detailed process that they follow to review cases in community settings to determine if there is an epidemiological link between cases. Our CVSD team relies on their knowledge, experience and investigation when determining instances of school-based transmission.

If a student is positive, do their siblings stay home as well?

If the Department of Health determines that siblings and family members are close contacts, based on the science that defines what constitutes a close contact, they must quarantine. One of our daily screening questions that everyone (staff and students) must answer each day is: “Have you been in close contact with a COVID positive person?” If the answer is “yes,” then you are not to come into our school buildings.

When a student is identified as a close contact, but not positive themselves, siblings are still allowed to attend school if the person (parent or child) who is a close contact is able to quarantine from the rest of the family. If families are unable to keep the close-contact parent or child quarantined from all other family members, they must keep their other students at home. Each family system and setup is unique in terms of how and when they interact in their home, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. This can also vary greatly depending on the age and developmental stage of the student.