WATERTOWN — On Wednesday morning, as school was starting for the day, albeit remotely, the Watertown City School District was notified by the Jefferson County Public Health Service that two students had tested positive for COVID-19.
When Patricia B. LaBarr, district superintendent, looked up the students in the district’s system, she realized both were remote-only students and reached out to building principals at each school to not only verify the students were, in fact, remote only, but also confirm the students hadn’t been in any school buildings in the last 14 days.
Soon after the district became aware of the positive cases, families across the district were notified via the ParentSquare app. Though it was confirmed the students were remote learners and hadn’t been in any district building within the last few weeks, Mrs. LaBarr said she thought it was important for people to know.
“We, in our reopening plan, stated that if we had a student or staff member that tested positive, we were going to notify our families,” she said. “I don’t know because it’s confidential information, but those students may have had contact with other students that are in our district. And those parents are going to get those phone calls from public health, so it’s kind of a courtesy heads up.”
Of the over 1,000 students currently utilizing remote learning in the district, these are the only two reported cases so far.
Mrs. LaBarr noted in her opinion, public health is amazing, doing all contact tracing for positive cases. If or when there is an in-person positive case within the district, she said it will work hand-in-hand with public health.
While some districts are offering COVID testing, Watertown is not currently offering the service. So if a child presents at the nurse’s office with any of the many COVID symptoms as listed on a flowchart sent out by public health, such as a runny nose, the child must be kept in an isolation room and their parents must be called to pick them up. The student, or any symptomatic employee, for that matter, will not be able to return to their respective school until they have proof of a negative COVID test, a doctor’s note and a resolution of symptoms.
“When you look at those symptoms, I’m not going to be surprised to have kids have runny noses or really any one of those symptoms,” Mrs. LaBarr said. “However, if they have those symptoms, we’re bound by the health department to follow their flowchart. That’s a struggle, and I’m sorry, but at the end of the day, we all have to work together through this pandemic.”
The same app used to notify parents of positive cases, ParentSquare is also how daily screening is logged each day. According to Mrs. LaBarr, ParentSquare has been giving users some difficulties, which are in the process of being worked out, such as parents with multiple children in the district only being able to view one of their children on the app, or those who set their preferences to Spanish only to have the app not comply with their language wishes.
“We understand their frustration, we’re frustrated too, but we are working through it,” Mrs. LaBarr said. “I am more confident today than I was a week ago that we are almost where we need to be. We’re just finishing up the first full week of school with kids and we’re making sure that the kids that are in person are doing that COVID screening, we’ve had a pretty good return rate on that.”
According to Mrs. LaBarr, masking and social distancing are going well, and overall, she’s pleased with how the return to school has gone so far.
“I think people are so happy to be back together and have kids in the building that, for the most part, everybody has been extremely positive and really proud of each other and our kids for doing all of those things they need to do to keep each other safe,” she said.
There is no set number of positive cases a district must hit before closing down schools for in-person learning and switching to remote-only operations. While Potsdam High School made the decision to switch to remote-only for the time being after confirming its second case on Thursday afternoon, Mrs. LaBarr said the decision to do so, should the time come, will be made with public health.
In a district currently dealing with its first positive in-person COVID case, Carthage Central School District Superintendent Jennifer L. Premo announced in a letter posted on the district’s website Thursday that its school reopening plan was developed to address potential positive COVID-19 cases and that the district will continue to follow its policies, procedures and protocols to ensure the health and safety of its students and employees.
According to the letter, social distancing protocols and disinfecting measures continue to be in place. Additionally, extra cleaning has occurred in the areas frequented by the student.
“As much as the District is attempting to be completely transparent in this matter, we are faced with the competing privacy rights of our staff and students,” the letter read. “The District is not permitted to release any additional information.”
Mrs. Premo could not be reached for additional comments Friday.