Though the overall numbers remain low and the impact on school schedules has been minimal, reported cases of Covid-19 in Rockville Centre schools have increased in recent weeks. On Tuesday, two cases were confirmed at Covert Elementary School, following three at Riverside Elementary and two at South Side Middle School the previous week. The elementary schools have remained open, but SSMS’s sixth-graders remain on a remote learning schedule until next Monday.
Superintendent June Chang said the district follows the Nassau County Department of Health contact tracing procedures to determine direct contacts, and takes action based on the findings on a case-by-case basis. “Contact tracing is a very, very difficult task,” Chang said. “The point of contact is going to have multiple variables.”
At the Nov. 5 Board of Education meeting, Chang discussed the protocols for school closures, contact tracing and quarantining. After he closed the middle school for one day on Nov. 2 when he learned of positive cases, he explained, the DOH determined who had been in direct contact with those who were infected.
“Because of that,” Chang said, “we had a situation in which the contact tracing and the quarantining of direct contacts affected our operations and being able to have full staff and have supervision of our students.” The DOH concluded that only the sixth-graders were impacted, and they were immediately switched to a remote learning schedule for two weeks.
The situation at Riverside was different, Chang said. Those who tested positive had no contact with others in the school building, so the school did not have to close and no class had to quarantine.
Chang noted that anyone who is determined to be a direct contact will be notified by either the DOH or the school district. Close contact, according to Nassau County, is defined as being within six feet of a Covid-positive person for at least 15 minutes. Chang also clarified that while the sixth-graders were all working remotely, only those deemed to be direct contacts needed to quarantine.
“If you are a direct contact,” he said, “you have different expectations in terms of quarantining versus the rest of the students being put on remote learning.” He added that those who are quarantining should not attend after-school activities.
School board President Tara Hackett asked what the protocols were for siblings of students who are direct contacts. Chang said that they are not required to stay home because those are not positive cases. “It’s a contact of a contact,” he said. “Therefore they’re allowed to come back to school.”
Hackett also clarified the protocols for siblings of students showing symptoms of Covid-19. “If one sibling has a fever,” she said, “the other sibling should not be in school until there is a negative test.”
The district continues to follow enhanced sanitation and safety protocols to reduce transmission of the virus. Robert Bartels, assistant superintendent for business, said the district had spent roughly $500,000 on supplies and personal protective equipment, include individual desks to replace tables at some of the elementary schools as well as desk barriers in the elementary schools and in the offices. There have also been purchases of air purifiers, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizers, gloves and masks.
“We are working very closely with our custodial staff, which I think has done a terrific job,” Bartels said, adding that some of the night staff is working earlier, helping to clean high-touch areas while students are in school.
Board secretary Christine Ferazani brought up the new quarantining and testing protocols for New York state announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week, and, in anticipation of holiday travel as well as the start of the travel soccer and lacrosse seasons, she asked that the district provide parents with those protocols as soon as possible. Trustee Liz Dion also asked whether students who have traveled out of state are able to switch to the remote schedule while quarantining, and Chang said that is what they should expect to do.
Information about procedures and protocols is on the district website, as is a “dashboard” listing current and past Covid-19 positive cases at each school building, with the newest cases highlighted. There have been a total of 10 cases since school started in September.
Chang urged the community to continue to take precautions outside school. “What you do at home is extremely important, and it needs to be a continuum of the school hours and after-school hours,” he said. “What you’re doing in those outside activities will help us as we continue to move forward.”