COVID-19 testing underway in Port Chester schools, reopening planned for Jan. 19
The Port Chester school district plans to reopen schools on Jan. 19, more than two months after closing due to state-mandated COVID-19 testing requirements.
This decision is based on “initial voluntary and random COVID testing results this week,” according to an alert sent out by the district on Friday.
Port Chester was one of the last school districts in the Lower Hudson Valley to open schools for hybrid learning in the fall, and then remained open for less than a month before the Village of Port Chester became Westchester County’s first state-imposed “yellow zone” on Nov. 6. The village was raised to a more serious “orange zone” on Nov. 11 and remains in that designation today.
The school district closed buildings and switched to all-remote instruction “until further notice.” It had to meet the testing requirements for schools in micro-cluster zones: testing 20% of students and staff every month and maintaining a test positivity rate lower than in the zone as a whole.
On Nov. 19, Superintendent Edward Kliszus announced at a Board of Education meeting that the district would not attempt to reopen before the winter holiday. He said the district was struggling to keep schools open because of staffing issues even before the testing requirements came into play.
At the time, orange-zone schools were still required to test 100% of their populations before reopening and test 25% of the population weekly after reopening. Now, achieving a test positivity rate below the community threshold exempts school districts from further testing.
When remote instruction resumed after holiday recess on Monday, the COVID-19 testing effort began in earnest. Parents were asked to fill out consent forms to have their child tested by a school nurse or schedule an appointment to be tested by Open Door Family Medical Center, which operates health clinics in Port Chester schools.
On Wednesday, Kliszus told the Journal News/lohud in an email that Port Chester had received about 1,400 test kits from the state and Open Door had begun the testing process.
“We would like to test as large a cross section of staff and students as possible before considering an in-person teaching model,” he said.
To meet the 20% testing threshold, the district needs to test about 716 students and staff per month. Deputy Superintendent Mitchell Combs said in an email on Wednesday that Port Chester aimed to test half the 716 people before making a decision about reopening.
On Wednesday, the district had received over 1,400 testing consent forms. Port Chester has over 4,600 students, according to the latest available data from the state.
“Our school nurses are working very diligently to perform many of these tests,” Combs said. “[We] have the good fortune of a partnership with Open Door who are conducting additional COVID tests….These additional tests will count towards our quota.”
Now, Port Chester is set to resume hybrid instruction after Martin Luther King Day. The state-mandated testing of more than 700 students and staff every month will continue as long as the Village is a COVID-19 hotspot.
Port Chester's testing so far adds the district to the list of local districts that saw encouraging results from their state-mandated testing before the holiday break, including Yonkers, Tarrytowns, Ossining and New Rochelle. Their low positivity rates indicated that COVID-19 was not spreading widely in their buildings.
Westchester County Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler said in a November Q&A that in most cases, students and teachers coming down with COVID were not exposed inside schools.
The Port Chester students and staff being tested, however, have not been inside school buildings since early November. According to the district’s COVID-19 report card, Port Chester reported 54 positive cases from Sept. 8 to Dec. 23.