Lackawanna Trail School District officials acknowledged a setback with one employee testing positive for COVID-19 this week, but said the response that followed fell right in line with their plan to educate students in person with health and safety in mind.
The district brought all K-12 students back for a full reopening on Thursday, being one of the few in the region to do so.
A Lackawanna Trail Elementary Center teacher reported a positive COVID-19 test to district officials on Sunday. That afternoon, administrators informed the parents’ of 15 students in this teacher’s class that their children would need to temporarily switch to virtual learning and self-quarantine for 14 days.
“We were ready for that,” Superintendent Matthew Rakauskas said during a Lackawanna Trail School Board meeting held via Zoom on Monday night.
He commended the teacher for following protocol by immediately informing elementary Principal Brian Kearney of the positive test. Everything continued according to plan, Rakauskas said, from reaching out to local and state health officials for guidance to informing the greater community via Remind and the district’s website.
“It was a very well-oiled machine,” he said. He told the public he appreciates their comments, both supportive and critical.
“Some of the things I asked everybody to do on the first day of school when we welcomed everyone back was to communicate and collaborate as much as possible, and that has been happening all across the board,” Rakauskas added.
Citing privacy reasons, he didn’t disclose any other details about this unidentified teacher’s COVID-19 case to the public.
Having one positive test within the district doesn’t fall in line with the state Department of Health’s recommendations to temporarily close schools, he said.
If two to four students or employees test positive within a 14-day period, however, it’s likely that Lackawanna Trail schools would pivot to virtual learning and shut down for three to five days.
Principal of K-12 Student Management Shannon Cuchak said she wasn’t expecting to have to call parents on Sunday with this news, but appreciated their understanding. She reminded families to be aware that an incoming call from an unfamiliar phone number could be the district.
“We’ve learned that COVID does not take a break and it does not take the weekend off,” she said.
Kearney said the positive test was a “bump in the road” which officials expected to face, and he’s satisfied with the district’s response. He called last Thursday’s start to the school year positive for all students, regardless of the format their learning is taking this year.
“We are in full educational mode right now and we will continue to be in that… We will keep these kids moving forward and educating them while at the same time ensuring their health and safety,” he said.
Principal Mark Murphy said the high school also experienced a positive start and students have been adapting well to the changes. He noted that the Lackawanna Trail Cyber Academy through Virtual Learning Network Partners remains on hold.
Like many schools across the country, Murphy said VLN has been experiencing delays due to the availability of technology for online learning. Students enrolled in the cyber academy, which differs from learning virtually simultaneously with brick and mortar students, won’t be penalized for days they missed.
In other business, the board:
- Hired Amy Hughes for a maintenance II position at a starting rate of $14 per hour beginning Sept. 15.
- Approved David Duchnik and Amy Kishbaugh as private vehicle drivers for the 2020-21 school year.
- Approved a first reading of the following policies: Lesson Plans, Immunizations and Communicable Diseases, Health Examinations and Screenings, Telework, Physical Exam, Penalties for Tardiness, Job Related Expenses, Working Periods, Sick Leave, Responsibility for Student Welfare, Safety, School Calendar, Public Attendance at School Events, and School Visitors. (Thorne voted no.)
- Approved a student tuition waiver request for Illion Simpson for the 2020-21 school year.
The Lackawanna Trail School Board is scheduled to meet again for a work session on Monday, Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. via Zoom.