COVID exposures closed Ridgefield High, tested plans

Ridgefield High School was dismissed early Friday, Oct. 16, after a member of the school community was discovered to have COVID-19.

Ridgefield High School was dismissed early Friday, Oct. 16, after a member of the school community was discovered to have COVID-19.

Macklin Reid

In the aftermath of two separate COVID-19 scares that sent 52 Ridgefield High School students and four faculty members into quarantine, Superintendent of Schools Susie Da Silva found reason to be positive.

“The process worked,” she said. “It’s what we’ve been anticipating could likely happen, right?”

Most of Ridgefield High School’s approximately 1,500 students were back in classes this week, after an early dismissal Friday, Oct. 16, because a member of the RHS community had tested positive for COVID-19.

“When we learned of the individual who has tested positive in our school community,” she said Monday, “the real question of that morning was whether we close school that day — students were already in transit.”

The administration did send kids home — by early dismissal.

“We needed time to contact trace,” Da Silva said.

Students and faculty who were determined to have been exposed to the individual who had tested positive would be asked to quarantine.

Later Friday, school officials announced another separate COVID-related concern they had become aware of.

The girls soccer team had played an away game earlier in the week and the host school district notified the Ridgefield administration of a potential exposure.

Da Silva discussed this situation Friday evening in her second COVID-related email to the school community of the day.

“As most of you know by now, we did have an individual in our RHS school community who tested positive for COVID-19. In addition to this case, a group of RHS students were exposed to another individual outside of our school district,” DaSilva wrote.

“All those individuals that require quarantining have been notified,” her email said.

That increased the list of students who would be told to quarantine by 18, bringing the total to 52 students and four faculty, Da Silva said Monday.

14 days

The school system’s initial announcement Friday said that the person who had tested positive was in the school on Tuesday, Oct. 13.

Ridgefield High School students were told then that they should avoid gatherings until Saturday when contact tracing was expected to be completed — and people who needed to quarantine for 14 days would have been notified.

“Quarantining only kids necessary to do so,” Da Silva said at the time.

Academic testing — the PSAT — was scheduled in the school for Saturday.

Ridgefield High School Principal Jake Greenwood wrote in an email to families Friday evening that with contact tracing had been completed and “deep cleaning” of the building started, the school would reopen Saturday for the PSAT and also for athletic practices and events.

“We have concluded our contact tracing efforts and all students and staff required to quarantine due to a direct exposure have been notified,” Greenwood said. “If you have not been contacted directly by an RHS administrator or nurse, you may resume normal activities.”

Greenwood said the custodial staff was “continuing to deep clean the building and disinfect all high-touch areas.”

Da Silva and Aaron Cook, the school system’s COVID-19 health and safety compliance officer and coordinator of school nursing services, emphasized in their statements that school administrators collaborated with health authorities on the appropriate response to the situation.

“We have consulted with our Medical Director, Dr. James Ahern, and Ridgefield Health Department Director, Ed Briggs, to determine the next series of actions,” Friday’s first statement said

Earlier case

Friday’s positive test at RHS represented the second COVID-19 case discovered in the Ridgefield Public Schools community.

The first was announced Oct. 5. In that instance, school officials said that working with health authorities they had determined the person had not been in school when contagious, so building closures and contact tracing were not deemed necessary.

They did not initially specify what school was involved, but announced the next day it was East Ridge Middle School.

Looking back Monday afternoon, Da Silva said Friday’s events at the school did not change the administration’s thinking on the way the school system is operating. The six elementary schools are now back to all students in class five days a week, but the two middle schools and high school continue to operate in the hybrid model — with two cohorts attending school different days and never more than half the students in the building at one time.

So the elementary schools will go on with their full-time schedule, and it appears the hybrid model will continue indefinitely at the middle schools and high school.

“Our goal would be five days a week for everybody,” Da Silva said. “But the reality is, right now, unless the social distancing guidelines change, we are unable to achieve full capacity,”

School officials working on plans to return selected middle and high school students to full five-day programs.

“We are bringing back some students,” Da Silva said.

This might include some special education students, and high school kids at risk of being short credits because the new approaches to school aren’t working for them.

“We are layering on children, we just can’t bring all of our children back,” Da Silva said. “We don’t have the ability to social distance — in the middle schools, in most classrooms, at the high school in the cafeteria, science labs, electives.”

‘Challenging day’

In her email to families Friday evening, DaSilva commended the efforts of colleagues who had helped the school district prepare for the day’s difficulties.

“While our community experienced a challenging day today, it provided the opportunity to reflect on the past few months and the planning and thoughtfulness of the educators of RPS, as well as the many stakeholders that contributed to the reopening plan,” she said.

“As a result of these efforts, we were well prepared and equipped to navigate the events of today,” Da Silva said Friday. “I feel a great sense of pride in being a part of this school community — as it is clear that RPS’ north star is well aligned.”

On Monday she said that the work, thinking ahead and planning that had really paid off as Friday’s troubling events unfolded. The awkward timing — learning of the positive test when kids were on the buses, coming in — had been the only curveball.

“Making that decision was tricky because kids were already on route to school,” Da Silva said.

“Everything else went exactly as we planned for it. Our team came together. We contact traced. We called.

“Overall, because the plan was strong,” she said, “... it was as seamless as it potentially could have been.”

Still, these are the sort of plans that school officials would prefer remain untested.

“It made for a challenging situation,” Da Silva said, “and obviously we want to make sure everyone is healthy and safe, number one.”