WINDSOR TERRACE — On Nov. 15, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Thomas Chadzutko reassured families, faculty, and staff that all 69 Catholic schools and academies across Brooklyn and Queens will remain open and continue to provide in-person learning — irrespective of any impending decision pertaining to the status of city public schools. Public school buildings will need to close citywide if the percentage of positive tests in New York City is equal to or exceeds three percent using a seven-day rolling average.
“We wanted parents to know that our schools are open. There was a lot of confusion going into the weekend [of Nov. 14 and 15]. Were we going to close? Were we going to be open?” Chadzutko said on Nov. 16. “We really want the children to have ongoing education. They’re all adjusting very well since September 9.”
Should public school buildings close, the superintendent has requested the Department of Education’s Office of Non-Public Schools continue to provide services for Catholic school students, which they are entitled to, including school nurses, transportation, and food.
“Every member of our school community has truly dedicated themselves to keeping our schools as safe as possible in the wake of this Coronavirus pandemic, and the results prove these efforts have worked,” Chadzutko said. “For more than eight weeks, we have been able to maintain in-person learning for our students, mostly five days a week, and we intend to keep doing so going forward this school year. We know how critical it is for the development of our students to keep our schools open.”
Testing and Funding Moving Forward
Six previously deemed red-zone schools that were closed in the diocese, beginning the first week of October, finally reopened the second week of November. They all passed benchmarks, set by state Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that required mass mandatory testing prior to reopening.
Now, 25 percent of red- and orange-zone school communities and 20 percent of yellow-zone school communities — including on-campus students, faculty, and staff — must be randomly tested every week. Schools will have to close and transition to remote learning again if a weekly random sampling generates at least nine positive cases.
Currently, the diocese is working with two vendors for yellow-zone school testing. Though the state has provided free test kits, testing costs range between $2,000 and $10,000 per week, according to Chadzutko. Those costs, at the moment, are being shouldered by each Catholic academy, parish school, and high school, whose budgets are already stretched.
Anne Zuschlag, principal at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic Academy in Forest Hills, Queens, told Currents News in late October that the estimated weekly cost for her school was $2,500.
“Many of us are already functioning at a deficit budget this year because of all the provisions we needed to put in place,” she said. “So we’re very, very cautious about how that’s going to impact us in the long run.”
The diocese is continuing to ask the state for funding to administer these tests and is also working on a grant application to help cover the enormous amount of costs.
“The grant would cover about $1.3 million — that’s the ask that we’re putting out there,” Chadzutko said. “At this point, it’s premature [to say] whether the total amount will be funded.”
However, the diocese also received word from the Department of Health (DOH) that schools currently in yellow zones will no longer be required to have testings if, over the course of two weeks, each individual school’s positivity rate is lower than the yellow zone positivity rate.
“That’s good news for our schools because the financial impacts of this required testing is a great burden,” said Joan McMaster, associate superintendent for Principal and Teacher Personnel in the Diocese of Brooklyn. “In addition to that, our schools are doing really, really well. Our numbers clearly show we are not a spreader of this illness and our positivity rate is very, very low.”
Stay Vigilant over the Thanksgiving Break
The Superintendent’s Office, as well as principals, teachers, and staff, continue to encourage and implement strict adherence to the important “Core Four” actions that help prevent COVID-19 transmission. Those actions are maintaining a physical distance of six feet, wearing a face covering, practicing healthy hand hygiene, and staying home if sick. Other daily screenings, including temperature checks and questionnaires, continue to take place prior to entering the building.
According to Chadzutko and McMaster, the ongoing line of communication amongst principals, the diocese, and the city and state has exponentially helped over the last two months. “Our principals report everything to Joan daily, even on Saturdays and Sundays,” Chadzutko said. “Because that pipeline of information is always open, Joan also then has direct access to the appropriate people at the New York City Department of Health.”
“We all have to meet the basic minimum requirements that the Department of Health — both city and state — has put forth for us. But, we are allowed to go above and beyond if we feel that it would keep our school community safe,” McMaster added, noting that extra health and safety precautions continue to be taken by Catholic school educators, students, and families.
Lynn Alaimo, principal at St. Gregory the Great Catholic Academy of Bellerose, applauded the superintendent’s announcement. Though her school was not in any color-coded zone as of Nov. 17, she continues to make sure her community remains vigilant.
“Our protocols are a little more stringent than what the city is requiring,” Alaimo told The Tablet, clarifying that her school hasn’t reported a positive case since opening on Sept. 9. “My teachers want to be in school and my kids want to be in school. I’m glad that the superintendent said we’re going to stay open.”