Updated: November 20, 2020 07:05 PM
Created: November 20, 2020 06:13 PM
As the number of COVID-19 cases in the region continues to rise, NewsChannel 13 is learning new information about a group gathering of some Averill Park High School students that took place earlier this month.
NewsChannel 13 obtained a photo from the event on Thursday, which sources said was an unofficial backyard prom held on November 7. Officials are now saying they are aware of more large gatherings taking place in the district.
On Friday, a senior from the school reached out to NewsChannel 13 to speak about the event.
Vito, who did not want his last name shared publicly, is the student body vice president. He says the event was organized after the district made a request for seniors to take photos in their prom attire that can be shared in the yearbook.
"In the email we received from the school there was never any explicit instruction on what the picture was supposed to be, who we were supposed to be with, and if there was any guidelines enforced 'cause it was an outside of school event. And they're gonna stick to that but you know it was asked of us to take these pictures by the school," said Vito.
NewsChannel 13 has not showed any of the students or identified any of them by name but the photo shows 25 students together. Vito says it was taken by a professional photographer. He says social distancing and safety precautions were in place other than the few moments taken for the photo.
"We took temperatures multiple times throughout the evening, when people got there, when people left and even in the middle," said Vito.
On Thursday, Rensselaer County reported its highest daily COVID cases yet, with 41. NewsChannel obtained the photo with sources saying this is one of the events that could be contributing to the spread although no one has attributed any positive cases to this event.
New York state's COVID Report Card says there are 16 students and seven staff members that have tested positive for the virus in the last two weeks. District officials announced on November 12 they would be moving to all remote learning.
Superintendent Dr. James Franchini spoke in a Facebook video.
"We are also aware of a possible exposure in the community that took place outside of school. This event has also led to students being quarantined," said Dr. Franchini.
"That's what really made us upset. Because no one in that picture is quarantined," said Vito. "There's been no other large student gathering that has been public or to any knowledge of the school, right? So it just makes me think that he is 100% talking about our event here."
In a Facebook post on Friday, the superintendent said the district is aware of multiple student gatherings outside of school. Vito and several other community members have said teachers have also been holding gatherings, including a large Halloween party.
NewsChannel 13 asked the district to confirm if they were aware of the teacher gatherings. They replied with "No Comment."
"There absolutely is an outbreak in Averill Park and the first email we received as a school district was telling us that two teachers tested positive," said Vito.
While the official source of the spread has not been identified, health officials have said any large gatherings pose significant risks.
Vito says his group of friends is allowing him to speak on their behalf hoping to clear up any misconceptions.
"It's upsetting to see that we're almost being used as a scapegoat for the school. The picture is being used as scapegoat for the school, and we just don't want to see that," said Vito.
On Friday, the county said two more students tested positive for the virus. The district released a Facebook post saying one additional high school teacher has tested positive.
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