Shenendehowa High School in Clifton Park, N.Y.

CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — Shenednehowa School District Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson is trying to keep the Board of Education and the community updated on the district’s preparedness for mandatory COVID-19 testing but it seems to become harder each week.

Though it’s a valiant effort and staff members continue to work diligently, it has become a bit like dancing on an ever-tilting table top as the state’s cluster zone metrics continue to change.

At the Jan. 12 Board of Education meeting Robinson prefaced his discussion on preparedness by noting the most recent metrics.

If a school is determined to be in an Orange Zone cluster zone a total of 10 percent of all students, faculty, and staff on-site (either in-person or hybrid instruction) must be tested for COVID-19 every two weeks (bi-weekly). As long as the school (or district) remains in the Orange Zone an additional 10 percent of the stated population must be tested bi-weekly for a total of 20 percent tested over a four week period.

For schools with a Red-Zone cluster designation, a total of 15 percent of the same population must be tested for COVID-19 bi-weekly. As long as that school remains in a Red Zone an additional 15 percent of the stated population must be tested bi-weekly for a total of 30 percent tested over a four week period.

As of the board meeting, Shen had received parental consent to test 5,200 students and staff if there is a need. That figure represents 49 percent of the total number of students and staff eligible for testing.

Robinson said the district is prepared with 3,840 rapid test kits onsite that are ready to use. As additional preparation district nurses have received training in how to administer the tests.

As preparation for the actual testing procedure, the district has prepared a plan for drive-thru testing using the vehicle bays in the bus garage pending a state Department of Health directive. Robinson said a practice drive-thru was held at the bus garage on Jan. 12 to test the plan and get the timing minimized.

Since the largest population requiring testing is students, Robinson said they will have their tests done using the drive-thru method while staff members will have their tests administered on-site during the school day.

Robinson said during the test run it was found that vehicles with one individual being tested could be completed in a time as fast as 45 seconds while those that had two individuals took 90 seconds.

“Tomorrow we will have a debriefing with transportation folks, nurses, operations folks, and food service folks because we had a wide variety of people looking at (the test run) from a different lens,” he said last week. “We want to look at all the nuances.”

Test results are available to the district in about 15 minutes. If someone tests positive they will receive a phone call. The population selected for tests will be chosen randomly in such a way to get a broad random sampling. Therefore, everyone who consented to be tested does not need to be called.

Robinson said the drive-thru method has been deemed the safest method because no one has to get out of their car. It appears to be the quickest also. He added that there were some parents who felt their children might balk if the tests were administered within the school buildings and by doing it in the car with the parent present it would present the students with an environment where they felt safer and more comfortable.

The district is working on a memorandum of understanding to allow for COVID testing without the formal cluster zone designation because the number of positive COVID cases in the district has now exceeded the metrics of the cluster zone designations.

Also, the district is petitioning the state to become a designated vaccination site so a finite number of staff who fall into the allowed vaccination categories can be vaccinated.  

“Each year we do a massive flu shot clinic so people can get their flu shots here so we know we have the infrastructure and the plan,” Robinson said.

In answering a board member’s question whether the district would have to get more test kits, Robinson referred back to the stipulations of the cluster zone designations that state once a school district is recognized as being in a cluster zone it must continue to test until the number of positive cases drops below the acceptable level found in the community. Once testing starts, getting more test kits will quickly become a priority.

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