Syracuse superintendent defends last-minute decision to go remote instead of county’s plan to test every student

School Zone
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Just hours before the Syracuse City School District was going to welcome students back to classrooms Monday with aggressive plans to meet the “orange zone” testing requirement, the superintendent decided to go remote the entire week instead.

When the “orange zone” restrictions were announced the Monday before Thanksgiving, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said he expected students to return the following Monday.

The “orange zone” designation comes with mandatory testing for all students and teachers before returning to the classroom, a daunting task Onondaga County was planning to accomplish.

Wednesday, the district had named the eight schools that would be tested Monday. Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon was working to convince the governor to allow all students to return to in-person learning Monday, with a promise the county will test everyone by the following Friday.

The decision to go remote instead, without explanation, was announced Sunday evening.

Monday, a district spokesperson defended the decision in a statement to NewsChannel 9:

“[Superintendent Jaime Alicea] felt it was in the best interest of everyone to have all of our schools, including Corcoran and Roberts, go remote for the week while we test.”

The district cited a list of reasons:

  • Questions about whether students and staff could physically be in the school building today prior to being tested,
  • Questions about how to get students home if they tested positive
  • Concerns about having enough isolation rooms if multiple students tested positive
  • Concerns about parents being at work and not home if a student needed to return home after testing positive
  • Continued increase in the positive cases in our schools over the recess

District spokesperson Mike Henesey also blamed the lack of family participation in being tested at the nine schools already scheduled. He said 823 students and staff out of more than 3,000 registered in advance.

Parent permission, as part of registration, is required to be tested.

Bill Scott, the president of the Syracuse Teachers Association, supported the decision and likely played a role in pressuring the administration to make it.

Scott blamed the timing of the Thanksgiving holiday, making it “very difficult to communicate out to staff, students, and parents about how to schedule testing, where to report for testing, and so on and so forth.”

“With the spread in the community growing, staff need reassurances that it is safe to continue. While testing availability goes a long way to catching COVID at the door, there has been little communication or reassurance from the county which is much needed.”

City school buildings are expected to begin testing through the county’s operation later this week. Students are scheduled to return in-person on Monday, Dec. 7.


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