The Port Washington School District’s Board of Education held their monthly meeting on Sept. 21 in which they discussed updated COVID protocols as well as how the district plans to inform the community of a positive COVID case within the district.
Under new guidance from the New York State Department of Health, the district made some additional edits to their reopening plan.
“Some recent modifications to the plan include only accepting PCR test results, and also letting siblings stay in school if their siblings have symptoms,” Assistant Superintendent of General Administration Dr. Chris Shields said. “The committee has also discussed the requirement for all staff to be tested weekly if they are not vaccinated.”
Dr. Shields stated that the reopening committee has also been discussing how they plan to communicate to the district when there is a positive COVID case.
“Dr. Hynes will be sharing a new table format of positive cases each Friday and close contacts will be contacted at the school level,” Dr Shields said. “We do understand that some parents have asked that whole classes be informed of a positive case and we’re taking that under consideration. We spoke about this just today and we are going to revisit it at our Oct. 5 meeting.”
The current system in place only notifies parents of a positive COVID case if the student has come in close contact with the person who tested positive. Several board members were disappointed with the Reopening Committee’s recommendation regarding notifying individual parents instead of whole classrooms about a positive case.
“The sense of the [Reopening] Committee was we should stay with the current practice, monitor it over the next two weeks and if we need to we can adjust it,” Dr. Shields said.
“When you say you’re going to reevaluate it in two weeks, what would change it in two weeks?” board member Adam Smith said.
“There’s a lot of things to consider,” Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Hynes said. “Let’s look at what we have in front of us—number of cases, how the board feels as we continue to move forward and then looking at the perceptions and the perspectives from our principals as well to see what their feedback is.”
Dr. Hynes stated that the district is looking to set up a COVID dashboard on the school’s website, which will be updated whenever there is a new positive case so that parents would have access to that information right away.
“What the community member will notice is that the total number of cases that we have within a district, within each building collectively over time and then on top you will notice in that row the number of new cases for that week,” Dr. Hynes said. “You will be able to parse out two different pieces of information. Let’s roll that out for two weeks, receive some feedback and then make that recommendation to the board moving forward in October.”
Board member Rachel Gilliar disagreed with this decision, stating that notifying parents of COVID cases in the classroom will allow them to make a more informed decision regarding their child.
“We need the parents as well to be partnering with us in making sure that kids can stay in school in the midst of a pandemic,” Gilliar said “We need them to be alert to what’s going on and to also be vigilant to make sure they are minimizing the risk to their own child in their own community. Withholding this information doesn’t allow parents to make decisions based on what they know their own personal family’s risk level to be, which is information that the school district doesn’t have.”
Smith also disagreed with the decision stating that while he has always been “very supportive of the Reopening Committee and the job they have done thus far,” he feels that this was “not the correct decision.”
“I think notifying the entire district every Friday is great,” Smith said. “I think the dashboard is great. But there’s no reason not to inform a classroom when there’s a positive case in the class. It’s not a huge burden. I think it’s logical. Not notifying people seems purposeful. It doesn’t make sense.”
Dr. Hynes stated that the Reopening Committee discussed this topic at length during their meeting and ultimately came to the conclusion to wait two weeks to see how the community feels about the dashboard and the information being communicated to them.
“What we are asking for is to at least allow more than a week to move forward to see where we are and then we revisit it,” Dr. Hynes said. “Moving forward, I would ask that our building administrators see what other forms of feedback we could acquire and then make a recommendation moving forward. Give us two more weeks, then let’s come back and have another conversation about it.”
President Emily Beys stated that the Reopening Committee also needed the additional two weeks to discuss how they would implement a modified process if need be. The board then asked Dr. Hynes and Dr. Shields to share their concerns with the committee during the next meeting.
“I would ask that you bring back to the committee sooner than Oct. 5 that at least four people on the board are not happy with this decision,” Smith said.
Livestreams of the Board of Education meetings are available on Youtube @PortWashingtonUFSD.