Thanks to safety measures implemented last year, all 16 diocesan Catholic schools have kept their numbers of COVID-19 cases to a minimum, enabling them to continue offering in-person learning five days per week, officials said.
“Established safety protocols have been working effectively to keep the rate of infection low among students and faculty,” James Tauzel, diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools, told the Catholic Courier Jan. 15. He noted that the first positive case in diocesan schools didn’t come until six weeks into the 2020-21 school year, and he believes cases detected since then likely did not originate at the schools.
Prior to the start of the current school year, Tauzel worked with leadership at the schools to create safety plans that would make it possible to provide families with five-day-a-week, in-person instruction.
Each principal was required to submit an action plan outlining official safety protocols that would be implemented at his or her school. While each plan differed due to building capacities and varying class sizes, Tauzel said common safety practices in place at all schools include morning temperature checks, face coverings and social distancing.
“In general, students and staff have been excellent in wearing masks and observing other safety regulations,” he added.
Another safety practice has been the use of a cohort model at such schools as St. Mary in Canandaigua and St. Lawrence in Greece. This model limits the amount of interaction between students at different grade levels and has been helpful in reducing the risk of cross-contamination and transmission between students, Tauzel explained.
At St. Mary, for example, each cohort comprises three grades — K-2, 3-5 or 6-8, Principal Lisa Milano told the Courier Jan. 20.
Milano said the St. Mary building’s unique structure allows members of each cohort to enter the school through different doors and/or at different times to reach their designated areas of the building. Students also remain in the same classroom all day except to go to the gymnasium for physical education and to eat lunch. As the only shared space in the building, the gymnasium is cleaned and disinfected between uses, she added.
Another method to limit the risk of exposure among students is having teachers of such special classes as art and music travel to classrooms instead of having students travel to the teachers for instruction, Milano said.
Staff members and students have adopted these safety practices without complaint, she noted, adding that parents also have been receptive to the school’s safety procedures. Before sending their children to school in the morning, parents are required to fill out surveys about the children’s health. Parents also have been cooperative in getting their children tested should they exhibit COVID-19 symptoms.
“They have taken such wonderful personal responsibility,” Milano said of parents. “If their child shows symptoms of a cold or slight fever, they’re keeping their child home.”
Parent Cassie Miskell, whose son Otto is enrolled in the first grade at St. Mary, recently kept him home due to a cough, which she noted is the focus of one question on the health survey parents complete before dropping off their children at school.
“We don’t worry about sending Otto to school because we know he is safe there,” said Miskell, who attributes her comfort level to the cohort model and overall organization of the safety practices in place at St. Mary.
Miskell is not alone in finding comfort by enrolling her child in a diocesan school. Jessica Hall recently transferred her two children from the Greece Central School District to St. Lawrence School, and said the staff at St. Lawrence has been doing remarkably well at maintaining safety measures.
“As a parent, I feel secure with the safety practices in place,” she told the Courier Jan. 21. “My children do feel safe while at school.”
In addition to utilizing a cohort model and restructuring classrooms, St. Lawrence students are separated from each other in class by plastic barriers, and classroom activities have been altered so students do not share any materials, said Principal Frank Arvizzigno. Additionally, anyone entering the school is required to have his or her temperature checked, and staff and students who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 during the day are sent home.
Arvizzigno said this process, combined with social distancing, face coverings and disinfecting procedures, has been instrumental in keeping the rate of infection down.