ST. REGIS FALLS –– A change in state Health Department guidelines governing in-person instruction in schools has prompted at least one Franklin County school district to switch to remote-on learning –– again.
And the Franklin-Essex-Hamilton BOCES is warning parents in its nine other component districts to be ready for similar changes at their schools on very short notice.
The St. Regis Falls Central School District returned to on-line-only instruction Thursday and will remain in that mode through Tuesday, Superintendent Tim Seymour wrote in a letter to parents dated Wednesday. The change is being made because the district cannot meet updated state guidelines that would allow it to continue offering in-person instruction, Seymour wrote.
The state last week issued updated guidelines about when students and staff can come to school and when they have to stay home.
Under the revised guidelines, If a student or staff member has any COVID-19 symptoms –– which can include a fever, a headache or runny nose –– they have 48 hours to see a doctor and either receive a negative COVID-19 test result or be diagnosed with something other than COVID-19. “If they can’t do that, school and health department officials must presume that the person is positive,” the BOCES release said.
Many of the symptoms that will trigger a presumed positive can also be caused by medical conditions other than COVID, such as the flu, the BOCES release noted.
“A ‘presumed positive’ case means that not only the student/staff member has to stay home from school, but also that the school and health department have to start the contact tracing process, potentially quarantining at home all of the student’s classmates and teachers who spent more than 10 minutes in the same room with the child,” Seymour explained.
Seymour noted that it is rare for anyone tested for the virus to receive their results within the state’s 48-hour window. Even if a person can obtain a doctor’s appointment in that time, the turnaround time on the test frequently surpasses 48 hours, he wrote.
“As of this afternoon, several students in the District have gone beyond the 48 hour threshold and have now been presumed positive by the Department of Health,” Seymour wrote Wednesday. That determination forced the district to return to remote-only instruction, he wrote.
St. Regis Falls had originally planned to offer in-person instruction for all students unless they opted out, but decided shortly before school started to go to a remote-only mode, citing what district leaders said were ambiguities in state guidelines at that time. The district returned to in-person instruction Sept. 21.
The switch back to remote learning will result in the postponement of all scheduled athletics practices and interscholastic sports contests, Seymour wrote. SRF students who attend BOCES classes and other residents of the district that attend other schools will continue to attend their classes as scheduled, he added.
St. Regis Falls may be just the first of many school districts in the 10-district BOCES region that will have to return to remote-only learning, the BOCES release said.
“Our main concern is that many of these presumed positive cases will make it look like we have an outbreak of the virus, when it’s more related to our limitations on access to doctors and timely COVID test results,” said FEH BOCES District Superintendent Dale Breault. “We take confirmed cases very seriously, and all of our school leaders in the region are committed to working to ensure that families get the medical care they need.”
As of Thursday, none of the nine school districts in the BOCES region –– Brushton-Moira Central School, Chateaugay Central School, Lake Placid Central School, Long Lake Central School, Malone Central School, St. Regis Falls Central School, Salmon River Central School, Saranac Lake Central School and Tupper Lake Central School –– have reported any positive results. The 10th district, the Raquette Lake Union Free School, is not included on the state’s school COVID dashboard. The district is a “nonoperating” school district –– one of three in the state –– that sends students living within its boundaries to neighboring districts for their education.