Six of seven teachers at a Connetquot middle school have been told by the district to return to their classrooms — against the union's advice — after one of their students last week tested positive for COVID-19, local officials said Wednesday.
The school district stands by its decision, while the local teachers union disputes the action, saying it is inconsistent, and that all seven staffers should be sent home as a precaution. The union adds that 12 to 15 students from Oakdale-Bohemia Middle School have been quarantined.
"Here we have a situation where we know these teachers have been in close or proximate contact with someone who has tested positive, and there is no quarantine, only for students," said Tony Felicio, president of the 640-member Connetquot Teachers Association. "If that makes sense to anyone, I would love to hear the medical and scientific reasoning behind that."
Lynda Adams, superintendent of the 5,200-student Connetquot system, said the Suffolk County Department of Health Services decided the six teachers could resume work without being quarantined, and that the district relied on the health agency's expertise. Health authorities later confirmed this.
Adams added that her district, like most, had taken extensive steps to prevent infection from spreading — safeguards such as wearing masks in class, 6-foot distancing between desks, and use of transparent dividers. Health authorities take such factors into account in deciding whether extended quarantines are justified.
"We were happy that the SCDHS released the majority of folks from precautionary quarantine because that's why we put all those precautions in place," Adams said in a statement.
Since Sept. 1, when schools on Long Island began reopening, more than 50 districts throughout the region have reported scattered instances of virus infection, either among students or staff.
New York State's Department of Health requires, as a general rule, that teachers or students who come in contact or proximity with someone identified as COVID-19-positive quarantine for at least 14 days. "Contact" is defined as within 6 feet; "proximity" as within the same room.
However, other factors also are weighed in determining whether people need to be isolated. Suffolk's health department includes factors such as length of time spent with an infected person, size of room, ventilation, crowding and face masks.
An agency statement issued Wednesday said that, in Connetquot's case, "All of the individuals involved did not have the same level of exposure." This, the agency added, was either because teachers spent various lengths of time with the student who later tested positive, or in some cases were in the same room when masks were not used.
Felicio, following a phone conversation with Suffolk Health Commissioner Gregson Pigott, said his union was sticking to its position that all seven teachers should be allowed to stay home.
Connetquot teachers in early September rallied in protest of what they described as the district's lack of preparation to deal with COVID-19. The district insisted it was well-prepared.