NORFOLK — Norwood-Norfolk Central School Superintendent James Cruikshank held a virtual public session to gauge sentiment on potentially lowering the in-person social distancing requirement from 6 to 3 feet, a recommendation made by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
“Norwood-Norfolk’s not doing anything right now. I kind of refer to it as an onion. As the onion keeps getting pulled back layer by layer, I want to be prepared. I want to hear your concerns, questions, thoughts,” he told the participants, which included a mix of community members and teachers.
Although the recommendation comes from the CDC, Mr. Cruikshank said it must be filtered down through the state Department of Health and St. Lawrence County Public Health Department, who would have to adopt the CDC’s recommendation.
“Our Department of Health does not move quickly and that’s okay, it’s probably for a good reason. But I just wanted to kind of in preparation hear some thoughts or questions. I don’t know if I’ll have the answers, but at least I am writing them down,” he said.
One participant wondered, if they decreased social distancing, would they bring all students back to school for the end of the year, or maintain the status quo until next year.
Mr. Cruikshank said it was difficult to gauge, and there would be some challenges. As it stands now, the 6-foot social distancing has kept the district from having any COVID transmissions in school, although they have occurred from off-site individuals who have brought it into the building. They recently experienced what he called “a major disruption in our in-person learning” when one positive COVID case turned into about 33% of the elementary school in-person students being quarantined by the St. Lawrence County Public Health Department.
“We understand the virus is still active and this is why our protocols are in place. Please know that because of our protocols, there have been no cases of transmission of the virus at school. This is exactly why we have our protocols ... we have had the virus walk in our doors this year on several occasions, yet no transmission. This is a credit to our faculty, staff and students,” he said.
Until the latest quarantine, the highest number of in-person students who had been quarantined or were symptomatic was 15% on April 2 and 13.4% on Feb. 1. There were also cases of 1%, 2%, 4.13% and 7.9% quarantined or symptomatic in-person students.
As of April 2, the district reported 40 COVID-19 cases, according to the state’s COVID-19 Report Card tracker — 33 on- and off-site students and seven on- and off-site teachers and staff. Twelve of the student cases were at the elementary school, while 11 were at the middle school and 10 were at the high school. Three of the teachers and staff cases were at the elementary school, while one was at the middle school and three were at the high school.
“We haven’t had any transmissions in school. Our desks are 6 feet-plus apart. We do our best at social distancing, but we are also social creatures and if you see second-graders walking down the hall, we do our best,” Mr. Cruikshank said.
He said about 30% of the student population had elected to learn 100% remotely and, if they were brought back to school, they would likely face issues with the number of students in the cafeteria and on buses.
“So, right now when we talk about bringing everybody back, we’re not talking about 1,000 kids because that’s approximately what we are. We’re talking about 700-ish, in that range. When we had 1,000 students here, we were in most classrooms 3-foot distancing apart already. The convergent points are the cafeteria and transportation. If we had 700 students, that’s bringing everyone back who’s on a hybrid schedule or what have you, then we would still have those convergent points of the cafeteria. We think we have some plans — rescheduling, things like that,” Mr. Cruikshank said.
On the buses, the current policy is one student per seat unless students are from the same family. Bringing more students back would change that policy.
“It’s not a perfect scenario, but we’ve been somewhat successful so far in preventing the transmission of the virus,” he said. “I would love to bring back students before the year is over. I don’t know if I can. That’s moving a ship in a different direction. That’s hard to do. Education is kind of a traditional entity. You don’t move the ship quickly or easily. But I would love to see the opportunity to bring kids back when we can.”
He said, if students were brought back, it likely wouldn’t be a hybrid model with some days of learning remotely and other days of learning in the classroom.
“We’d either bring them back or they’d be remote, and that might make it easier for us to organize here also. If we can do it, I think it would be beneficial to the kids and teachers. I know that seeing kids give me energy, and when I didn’t get to see kids for a number of months it was tough,” Mr. Cruikshank said.