District Superintendent Erik Gundersen announced that Pascack Valley will operate on a fully remote schedule through Nov. 23 due to three individuals testing positive for COVID-19 in an email sent to the entire district on Nov. 12. However, despite classes being virtual, all athletics will continue to take place.
When PV shifted to fully remote learning for two weeks in October, all sports and extracurriculars were cancelled as well. This time, however, Valley’s concerns were not completely regarding that of the COVID-19 cases, but more so a staffing issue with a growing number of teachers teaching remotely.
“We had to close not based on state concerns of the building and the virus,” Assistant Principal John Puccio said. “Not having 20 teachers in the building, although we have more [substitute teachers] than ever, and looking at the possibility of covering classes as much as we can, we just could not sustain that.”
The most recent positive cases at Pascack Valley were not connected to athletics, which allowed for sports to take place while classes are fully remote.
“This time the main concern was staffing for the academic side of the situation,” Athletic Director Shawn Buchanan said. “There was more of a roundabout connection to the athletic world [last time PV shut down].”
The three recent positive cases were linked to each other, meaning that Pascack Valley did not necessarily need to shut down in-person classes. If the Department of Health discovered through contact tracing that the cases were not connected to one another, the school would have had no choice but to shut down, meaning that sports would have been put on hold as well.
“If the Health Department, through its contact tracing, revealed [the most recent cases were not linked to one another], then it would have informed us that we had to shut down,” Puccio said.
“Ultimately, our medical staff works in conjunction with the Board of Health, and it’s their decision, and they work with Gundersen,” Buchanan said. “They deemed it a separate situation between the first closure to remote learning and our most recent one.”
There is not one person or group of people who made the decision – it was made by officials both from the school and the surrounding community.
“Our medical staff works closely with the Hillsdale and River Vale Board of Health,” Buchanan said. “They come to a determination based on contact tracing and all the other investigations that it does. It meets with the main office administration, [deMarris, Puccio, Assistant Principal Christine Pollinger, and Gundersen].”
“There is a lot that goes into [the decision],” Puccio said. “There is a lot of collaboration, and there are a lot of discussions with the Health Department. Any decision we make is a team effort.”
Buchanan provided information that showed the potential impact the positive cases would have on athletics, helping the district come to a conclusion on how to handle the shut down.
“[Athletic Trainer Bill Reger] and I prepared a report looking at whether or not [the recent outbreak] would impact rosters and coaches,” Buchanan said. “We provided that report to the decision makers, hoping that was providing additional information to see that the athletic side was not going to be impacted.”
If, for instance, an entire coaching staff had been forced to quarantine, then athletics would have shut down as well. With much of the sports staff unaffected, there was no need for athletics to be cancelled.
“Once the district determined it was more of a staffing concern on the academic side, then it gave them a little bit more leeway [for athletics] to stay open,” Buchanan said.
Now more than ever, communication is key; this holds true for school districts when it comes to relaying information regarding the virus. With Pascack Valley having positive COVID-19 cases, opposing teams in athletic events could potentially have safety concerns regarding their encounters with PV. To help reduce the uncertainty, Buchanan stayed transparent with surrounding school districts and their officials.
“[We are] working in conjunction with those schools, keeping them [aware of] all relevant information that we were able to share,” Buchanan said. “The schools that we worked with were very appreciative of us being open and being proactive.”
“Everyone is going to have concern because people are fearful of this virus,” Puccio said. “[Buchanan] articulated our current situation [to other school districts about why] we’re still able to do athletics.”