By Sophia Caputo (’24) and Isaiah Steinberg (’23)
On January 7, J-DHS Principal Paul Gasparini gave an update to RamPage on the state of the high school during the Omicron spike. He answered questions regarding ventilation, mask-wearing, testing kits, surveillance testing, vaccination information, and more. He points to the New York State School COVID Report Card as a helpful resource to track COVID numbers at J-DHS.
Is the lunchroom properly ventilated? Are kids properly distanced?
Yes. Three feet distance. That’s why we have the third lunch room. We set it up for distancing and ventilation. It has been that way now for two years. Last year we didn’t have the main gym foyer; we had the auditorium. But that’s why we created a third eating area.
For sports and athletic centers, are the spaces properly ventilated, and are kids wearing their masks fully?
Yes. They have to. Students are required to wear a mask while observing and participating in athletic events. Masks are fully required and we follow the New York State Department of Health guidelines to a tee.
Were there enough testing kits for all students? How did the school get the testing kits?
I believe the testing kits came from the federal government, through the state, to the county. The county distributed [the kits] by the numbers they had for the enrollment in the district. Everyone who has wanted a test kit has received one.
What are kids supposed to do with the testing kits? Were they given any guidance or instruction?
We weren’t giving guidance and instruction. We were asked to distribute them. Families were under no obligation to use them, nor were students or families obligated to report the results to the school.
How representative is the random sampling of the surveillance testing?
It’s difficult because what we had hoped when we set this up back in September, is that all of the students would register for the quadrant COVID testing. We have not even a quarter of the students who signed up. Of the number of students who are signed up to be randomly tested, there are weeks where families will email and say, ‘Hey, my son or my daughter can’t be on the list this week,’ for whatever reason. There are a number of reasons why they may not be able to do so. We take them out of the pool and then we just make random selections of those students every week. It ebbs and flows based on the number of testing swabs we get from the quadrant organization. They’re partnered with Onondaga County. We take the number we have, we have to do ‘x’ number of teachers and ‘x’ number of students, and we do a percentage of the overall total and try to rotate that every week.
What type of negative test will students need to return to school after getting COVID or being exposed?
There’s new guidance that came out [on January 6]. We’re still parsing through that new guidance [as of January 7]. There are some questions about what it means. I know that Dr. Smith sent out a letter to the community [on January 6] about it. I would just follow that guidance. It is shared with our District Office. Whatever the most recent guidance is, families should follow that. It is subject to change, just like guidance has changed the whole time.
Are there any plans in place for remote or hybrid learning should COVID get worse?
No. The imperative right now is for us to stay in school. We’re doing everything we can to keep students in person.
It is obvious that there has been a decrease of students in school since coming back from the break. Are you allowed to reveal how many students have been out this week (January 3-7)?
I think we’ve averaged about 15% absences. It’s ebbed and flowed over the week. Between 15 and 20%. It does seem like there are fewer kids here. That’s due to a wide variety of factors. There are some kids clearly who have COVID. There are some kids who are reluctant to come back because they have some concerns about it. The flu is coming back, the common cold is coming back, sinus infections [are coming back]. There’s that. There are also families who extended their vacations this week. There were a number of factors this week that led to the higher percentages. We expect that will snap back next week.
How many students and staff at the school have tested positive for COVID this week (January 3-7)?
I don’t have the numbers off the top of my head.
Does the school have access to information that says if students are vaccinated?
I don’t know that we do because it’s not a requirement yet. There is vaccine information that we do have for students though. We have to get your vaccine record from your physician. There are certain vaccines that you have to have, otherwise, technically you couldn’t be in school. So that does exist.
How does the school ensure that they’re notified when a student or administrator tests positive? Are there criteria for this?
Those criteria are changing. Those criteria come from the District Office.
What do you say to students who feel unsafe coming to school as COVID is spreading?
We have worked hard to keep mitigation [of the virus]. People take it seriously. We just want good practices, and we’re open to any questions, concerns, or thoughts that any student has about making certain they stay safe and they feel comfortable when they come to school. We watch very closely the positivity rates. We’ll watch this closely over the next couple of weeks with Omicron. It’s our hope that like in many other parts of the world with this wave, it peaks quickly and then diminishes quickly. So that’s what we’re hoping for.