Paula Smith is a doting grandmother to two young kids who attend school in District 13. She also suffers from multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease that attacks the nervous system, and is among one of many immuno-compromised family members who have lived in continuous fear that her grandchildren “will bring home the delta variant” from school.
“It’s unfair,” said Smith, who has had to stop taking her immune system-suppressing medication to combat her MS for fear of contracting the coronavirus, a disease that could prove fatal in her condition. When the district set its policy for reopening, it was disastrous news for Smith to learn that District 13 would not be providing alternative remote learning options to students, she said.
The Smiths have held off on sending their children to school for a little over two weeks as they plead with district officials to provide them with a homeschooling option. The Smith family discovered that the district could not offer them anything “because home instruction is only for kids that are hospitalized.” Repeated phone calls had been made to the director of special education, Maricel Goldman, for over two weeks with no response, until last Friday, when the Smith family resorted to threatening the district with a lawyer, Paula said.
But as Smith continues to wrestle with school officials, her concerns are proving to be all the more serious. On Sept. 2, on the first day of the school year for District 13, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul issued school guidelines for 2021-22 reopening.
Among some of the recommendations and minimum expectations was a strong urging to maintain a minimum of 3 feet of social distancing between students, installing optimal ventilation, and maintaining a maximum of 15 minutes of no mask wearing during eating.
But Smith and multiple parents from Dever contend that the school is cutting corners with its safety measures. Multiple parents, according to Smith, have confirmed that their children are without masks for well beyond the recommended 15-minute eating period, roughly 30 minutes in lunchtime and 15 minutes for snack, with no desk barriers between them.
Then, on the second day of school Sept. 3, a letter was issued by Superintendent Dr. Constance Evelyn notifying parents of the first self-reported positive case of a student with coronavirus.
On Wednesday, during the extended school break, some parents became aware of two children who tested positive in James A. Dever School. A letter was later issued Sept. 9 at 3:46 p.m., after school, a gap of time during which children remained in their classrooms with the possibility of exposure. Once the letter was sent, parents were in uproar, according to Smith, as “countless phone calls” were made to the State Department of Health to report what they believe to be a mishandling of safety protocols.
The number of positive cases throughout the district only grew from there.
As of the letter issued on Sept. 9, four students and one family member of one staff member have been confirmed positive for coronavirus at Dever. Since Sept. 13, six students have tested positive, including some reported positive cases of family members and three staff members at the Willow Road School. At the Howell Road, two staff members have tested positive, one as recently as Monday, resulting in an entire class being quarantined for 10 days.
Smith said she felt betrayed when she later learned that from the outset of the school year, a possible virtual learning option was offered through Nassau BOCES Learning Virtual Lighthouse Academy. But when the Smith family reached out to Elisa Maggi, supervisor of the Learning Virtual Lighthouse Academy, about enrolling her grandchildren, her family was informed that District 13 “did not support the program” and the program was pulled.
Superintendent Evelyn has cited low enrollment as the reason for the program ultimately being pulled.
She could not be reached for comment.