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COVID mitigation is important part of keeping Middletown parochial schools operating

DOWNTOWN – With COVID-19 cases nearly doubling in the past two weeks in Middletown, both public and parochial schools in the city have taken similar steps to help mitigate the spread of the virus.

Acting Director of Health Kevin Illac said all schools in the city are following the advice of the city’s Department of Health, as well as state and federal guidelines. “I tell everyone the same,” he said.

This includes wearing masks every day, checking the temperature on arrival, and quarantining away from school if a child tests positive for COVID-19. Vaccinations and/or COVID-19 tests are not required for students.

Alyssa de Jong, principal of Mercy High School, located on Randolph Road, said protocols have relaxed a bit compared to last school year.

“Our goal last year was to be in the building every day, and as a result, we had really strict guidelines,” DeJonge said. “Now, the goal is to get as many events as possible while putting in place mitigation strategies.”

These include school play events and Thanksgiving pie-making, both of which happened recently with additional safety protocols in place. “We think about each event and how to do it safely,” DeJonge said.

For example, the father-daughter dance, a staple of the Mercy event calendar, still continued, but everyone had to wear a mask inside, and the dining table was located in a separate room.

Likewise, at Middletown Public Schools, events have been modified to comply with safety guidelines. Indoor events are still limited to 50 percent, and students who go on out-of-state field trips are required to get a COVID-19 test before returning to school.

Marco Gaylord, head of school operations at Middletown Public Schools, said parents are encouraged to make sure their children continue to abide by these rules. “We send weekly reminders to parents as well,” he said.

At the school of St. John Paul II, on South Main Street, students eat lunch and share recess one class at a time, to allow them more freedom for social distancing.

“We got rid of the big lunch waves,” said school principal Lawrence Fitzgerald.

It is believed that these strategies were successful. “He’s been working for us,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve been open all last year and expect to be operating all this year.”

Faculty members in all schools, both parochial and public, are required to wear masks and either receive the COVID-19 vaccine, or take a weekly test, with nearly all staff in all schools choosing the first.

According to Elak, the only major difference in COVID-19 policy between public schools and parochial schools in the city is the distance learning and “Screen and Stay” program recently adopted by the state.

The Screen and Stay initiative allows students and staff who have been identified as having close contact with a known case of COVID-19, and who have not been fully vaccinated, to remain in classrooms if they are wearing masks and are not showing symptoms. Before that, they would have been required to quarantine outside the school.

Middletown Public Schools adopted this policy, while others, such as Mercy, Xavier High School and St. John Paul II, chose not to participate. “That’s the only difference,” Elac said.

The reasoning behind this is that if a student at Mercy or Xavier, for example, is identified as being close to a positive COVID-19 case, they can still participate through remote learning at home. This is not the case for public schools.

Instead of attending classes through Zoom or similar software, public school students use an asynchronous learning platform, such as Google Classroom, to access assignments when they are in quarantine.

So far, Gaylord said, Middletown schools have seen the majority of the virus spread outside of school. “That’s what we’re seeing, but we’re still wary.”

Governor Ned Lamont said Tuesday that the state’s positivity rate is at the highest percentage since January.


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