As the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 rises in the region, local Catholic schools are taking steps to keep students and staff safe and try to prevent the virus from spreading. These steps range from on-site COVID testing of staff and students at some schools to a temporary transition to remote learning at other schools.
All nine of the Diocese of Rochester’s Catholic elementary schools in Monroe County are within the boundaries of the new COVID-19 yellow precautionary zone designated Nov. 9 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and, as such, must participate in weekly testing of 20 percent of the students, staff and teachers.
These tests will be conducted on school grounds using rapid testing kits, according to a Nov. 9 letter to Catholic-school families from James Tauzel, superintendent of diocesan Catholic schools. The diocesan Catholic Schools Office is working with the Monroe County Health Department and local public-school districts to determine how this testing will be carried out, and will follow the guidance provided by these entities, Tauzel told the Catholic Courier Nov. 11. Students will not be tested without parental consent, he noted.
“We will require formal parent consent before any tests are conducted, ensuring all families know and understand the process before any tests are conducted on-site,” Tauzel said.
Such testing has been conducted at All Saints Academy in Corning since late October, as Steuben County had also been in a yellow zone. The county was removed from yellow-zone status by Gov. Cuomo on Nov. 11. Both of Chemung County’s Catholic elementary schools — St. Mary Our Mother School in Horseheads and Holy Family Catholic School in Elmira — are located in an orange zone and have transitioned to remote instruction but are working on a plan to begin offering on-site testing in order to return to in-person instruction, Tauzel said.
The Catholic schools in Livingston, Ontario and Yates counties thus far have not been affected because they are not in any of the color-coded precautionary zones, Tauzel added.
Bishop Kearney High School, located within the yellow precautionary zone in Monroe County, transitioned to online learning effective Nov. 12, and school officials plan to resume in-person learning Nov. 30, after the Thanksgiving holiday.
“As Bishop Kearney is located in a yellow zone and has students from across Monroe County, school leadership, in consultation with the Board of Trustees, determined the safest course of action for our students, faculty and their families would be to return to remote, online learning for the immediate term,” school officials said in a Nov. 10 statement.
The following diocesan Catholic schools also are within the yellow precautionary zone in Monroe County:
‚Ä¢ Holy Cross School in Rochester/Charlotte
‚Ä¢ Seton Catholic School in Brighton
‚Ä¢ St. Ambrose Academy in Rochester
‚Ä¢ St. Joseph School in Penfield
‚Ä¢ St. Kateri School in Irondequoit
‚Ä¢ St. Lawrence School in Greece
‚Ä¢ St. Louis School in Pittsford
‚Ä¢ St. Pius Tenth School in Chili
‚Ä¢ St. Rita School in Webster
Each of the Rochester Diocese’s Catholic schools will designate a site administrator for testing, and that person will be trained and equipped to administer the tests, Tauzel said in his letter. Twenty percent of each school’s total population, including students, teachers and staff, will be tested each week, beginning the week of Nov. 16.
“The 20 percent must rotate weekly, with a new 20 percent tested each week. Hypothetically, this would mean that after five weeks, everyone in the school community would participate in testing. Each school will develop a system for determining which individuals participate in testing each week,” Tauzel stated.
The form of testing that will be used in the schools is much less invasive than the standard test used to diagnose COVID-19, according to a Nov. 13 update from Tauzel to school families.
“The rapid-testing consists of a painless, nasal swab at the inside bottom of the nostrils that can be administered in less than 30 seconds followed by a 15-minute processing time. The school nurse or other trained school personnel, identified to parents, will administer and read the tests. Parents will receive notification of their child’s test results,” Tauzel explained in the update.
Nonetheless, the superintendent acknowledged that families may have concerns about having their children tested at school, and urged such families to reach out to their school principals. Schools will not test children from families who refuse to give their consent, nor will they test children in 3-year-old preschool classes, Tauzel said in the Nov. 13 update.
“We will honor every family’s decision regarding the testing of their child. Families not choosing to participate in testing will be able to continue regular attendance in school programs following the already established health and safety screening protocols. Regardless of the number of refusals, schools are still mandated to provide test results representing 20% of the daily average on-site population. If schools are unable to meet the testing requirements, they may be forced into remote instruction by state regulations,” Tauzel explained in the updated letter.Tags: Catholic Schools, COVID-19 Pandemic