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Grand Island School District welcomes easing of COVID test rules

Sat, Dec 5th 2020 07:00 am

Graham is eager to get kids back in school

By Karen Carr Keefe

Grand Island Schools Superintendent Brian Graham got some good news from the governor this week that could bring the district a step closer to having kids back in school.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo relaxed requirements for coronavirus testing for schools, such as Grand Island’s, which are in an “orange zone” that marks higher infection rates in the surrounding community. Those schools were forced to close and switch to all-remote learning. Prior to that, Grand Island used the hybrid model that combines remote and in-person learning.

“We are very happy with his announcement and are looking forward to reading written guidance from the (state) Department of Health,” Graham said.

Schools in the “orange zone” now need to test only 20% of the faculty, students and staff over the period of a month. That is down from the previous 25% monthly testing rule.

“That’s a significant change from 100%,” Graham said.” He noted the governor’s announcement, while very helpful, lacked lots of details. “What’s missing is, can we bring children back to school and then begin the testing regimen; or do the children need to be home, then we test our 20%, and then determine whether or not we are below the regional infection rate, and then bring children back?”

The immediate goal is to return to hybrid learning.

The district is awaiting approval of its Nov. 13 application to the state for the limited service lab license that would allow testing to go forward. Once they get the OK, the health department will send the BinaxNOW rapid tests. Graham said school staff will be trained in administering the tests according to the proper protocols.

“We’re hopeful that the results of the tests will show that the percent of positive infections is lower than Erie County or Grand Island. And then we would return to the hybrid model,” he said.

It’s too early, Graham noted, to gauge how students are faring academically in the remote model this year, as compared to last year’s regular instruction model.

“The majority of people that I’ve spoken to want their children in school every day, and we agree with that,” he said. “I have a child who is in our high school, and he wants to be in school five days. I want him to be in school five days. So we all know that in-person teaching and learning is the best model.”

Grand Island’s hybrid model of five-day schooling includes: two days of in-school learning; two days working at home watching instructional videos or following teacher-directed instruction through Google Classroom; and one day, Wednesday, when all students are home in a synchronous learning setting through livestream classes that include real-time instruction and discussion.

 “I’ve received feedback from parents, both people sharing with me that they like the hybrid model, that they like the 100% virtual model, but the majority of parents have shared feedback that they want their kids back in school,” Graham said. “I haven’t received a lot of feedback from parents saying that their children are failing.”

He said the district has to “look at the data and be able to make informed decisions based on data with respect to students’ ability to exhibit evidence of learning in both the hybrid and 100% virtual model.”

Graham agreed with other area school superintendents that schools aren’t the super-spreaders in the community: “There is no evidence of transmission of the virus in our school system.”

He said that, in the course of the semester, there have been about 22 cases of COVID-19 reported in Grand Island schools, either in student, faculty or staff.

“We’re very excited to be able to put our plan together and bring children back to school,” Graham said. “We appreciate everything that parents are doing as they partner with us to help in this pandemic time.”

He said the mutual goal is to make sure that children are safe and healthy and well-educated.

Toward that goal, Graham said the district is currently partnering with the Grand Island Neighbors Foundation to conduct a toy, food and toiletry drive for the foundation’s food pantry, to help Island families in need. Volunteers will be on hand to ensure that it will be a contactless drive. Interested parents or community members are asked to drop off food, toiletries, toys and gifts to the back of the high school near the cafeteria from 3-5 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 18, and 10 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Dec. 19.

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