(File photo)

In-person learning is expected to return Monday to Vassar Public Schools.

Provided the district’s coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) numbers return to normal, that is.

“We feel confident that if the numbers stay around the same, and people are staying home that are having symptoms,” Superintendent Dorothy “Dot” Blackwell said at Tuesday’s board of education meeting, “we anticipate that we should be able to be coming back face-to-face on Monday.”

But, she said, the leadership team planned to meet again Friday to review the numbers to see if that is possible.

Two weeks ago, as spring break was coming to an end, district officials expected to return to in-person learning then too.

“We felt we could have school on that Monday after break and we found out quickly after that Monday that we had an outbreak,” Blackwell said. “We had tons of COVID-19 positive cases as well as kids that needed to be quarantined.”

Students got into school despite temperature checks made before they get on a bus or walk in the building. If staff notice a student coughing, sneezing or sniffling, it is reported to the administration. Those students then are isolated in a health room at each school.

“None of them (students) were caught by a temp check,” Blackwell said. “It was all by symptoms. … But if we don’t find out about them until second hour or third hour, they have already exposed students in first hour, second hour.”

On that Monday, she said, they still had students who were positive milling among the population through the lunch hour.

“We even had students who were going home constantly during that day,” high school principal Jason Kiss said. “I think there were another seven to nine going home with other symptoms of just being sick also.”

Blackwell said this was a unique challenge. Until now, the district had been dealing with a case here and a case there. “It would be something where you could figure out who it was. This was the time when it blew up enough to do this.”

Blackwell said many of those students have siblings in the district, so “it just sort of blows up exponentially.

“What is really frustrating to me is that people came (to school) even though they had symptoms,” she added. “They came to school even after we thought we had clearly communicated that if you have any symptoms, stay home and give us a call.”

The outbreak taxed district staff as they traced each student’s or staff member’s contacts and adjusted to the sudden shift to online-only learning.

“Everybody realized the type of situation we were in, and everybody stepped up and did their part,” Blackwell said.

As of Tuesday, the district had 71 quarantined cases. That included three positive cases among staff, four positive cases and 17 quarantine students at Central Elementary, and 11 positive cases and 47 quarantining students at the middle/high school.

“We took that time during that (first) week,” Blackwell said, “to reach out to our communities to say who has had symptoms, who has been quarantined, so we could coordinate with the health department.”

That information then was sent to the public.

Blackwell said she was frustrated because, after informing authorities, Vassar did not appear on the state’s list of COVID-19 outbreaks in schools. She felt that undermined the district’s efforts to be transparent with the community.

“It is really vital that we are honest and sharing information,” she said, “and making sure we stop the spread.”

Treasurer Brian Rondo lauded the leadership team’s communication efforts. “I think the transparency on that really was appreciated by a lot of parents,” he said. “… I think that put a lot of parents’ minds at ease.”

Since that Monday, school officials have been monitoring those who tested positive as well as checking to see if any new positive cases have developed. School officials also have been doing antigen testing of athletes, who have continued to practice and compete during the online-learning weeks.

This past week they tested 100 and came up with two positives. The athletes were tested again Friday, and will be tested weekly from that point on, she said.

“We are going to make sure the kids are tested before they return to the population at school,” Blackwell said, “so no one will be exposed.”

During the past two weeks, Kiss said, staff has been reaching out to students during the week to make sure the students are getting their assignments and checking to see if the work is being done.