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One staff member each at 3 LI schools tests positive for COVID-19

Islip High School's classes will still begin Wednesday,

Islip High School's classes will still begin Wednesday, the district said. Credit: Google Maps

The Islip, Smithtown and Bellmore-Merrick school districts each reported a positive case of COVID-19 this week among employees who had returned to prepare for reopening after Labor Day.

In Islip, a teacher at the high school tested positive, read a letter from district Superintendent Ellen Semel. 

In Smithtown, a staff member at St. James Elementary School tested positive for the virus, Deputy Superintendent Mark Secaur said in a letter. 

At Merrick Avenue Middle School, a staff member also tested positive, Bellmore-Merrick district leaders said in an email.

Each district sent letters or emails to parents and guardians on Wednesday, which Newsday obtained. The letters informed the community about the positive cases, gave a commitment to work with local health departments, and gave assurance they would stick to reopening next week. 

Smithtown and Bellmore-Merrick are scheduled to reopen Tuesday. Islip is set to begin classes Wednesday.

The districts were notified of the positive cases in different ways. Islip was told by the teacher who tested positive, while Bellmore-Merrick said it was notified by the Nassau County Health Department. Smithtown did not specify how it learned of the positive case.

Cuomo: Districts' COVID data will be online

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday that New York school districts will be required to provide the state with daily data on the number of people who have tested positive for the virus starting Tuesday, when most districts are set to start the 2020-21 school year. The information will be publicly available on an online dashboard developed by the state Health Department.

"Many of the school districts have testing protocols that will be in place as part of their plans, but as I've said from the beginning, those plans are only as good as their implementation," Cuomo said in a news release. The local districts will be required to provide a link on their website to the dashboard, which will be updated daily.

The health and safety plans for Islip state that teachers, staff and students must complete a medical questionnaire prior to entering any school facility. Staff is required to complete the screening prior to reporting for work, the plan states. Islip, a Suffolk County district, has about 2,800 students across three elementary schools, a middle school and high school.

"The district immediately activated our health response plan and put all safety protocols into place," Semel said. "Under direction from the Department of Health, we worked with officials on contact tracing." 

She added that the health department was only concerned with anyone who was within 6 feet of the teacher for 10 minutes or more and unmasked.

Semel also said school scheduling will continue according to plan in Islip and that no other personnel — teachers, administrators and clerical employees — have tested positive for coronavirus, including those who were in contact with the infected teacher.

The letter noted that the affected areas of the school, at 2508 Union Blvd., were cleaned and disinfected.

“Islip public schools is committed to implementing measures to protect student[s] and staff from exposure to COVID-19,” Semel said. “We will continue to work to make sure you have all the information you need to make informed decisions about your child’s health.”

Meanwhile, Bellmore-Merrick school leaders said they were working closely with the Nassau County Health Department.

Each school district has a COVID-19 testing plan that must be approved by the state, said Mary Ellen Johanson Laurain, director of the division of communications and health education at that health department.

Testing takes place at public and private sites throughout the county, she said.

The county is responsible for contact tracing, and "the school district must assist the Department of Health with identifying workplace contacts," Johanson Laurain said. 

An investigation in the Bellmore-Merrick district determined that only one other staff member was in close contact with the employee that tested positive, said Superintendent John DeTommaso and middle school Principal Katelyn Dunn. That staff member will be required to quarantine for 14 days. 

"There were no additional exposures to students and staff," read the email to parents. "Therefore, no additional testing or quarantines are necessary for any other individuals, including students and staff who attended our orientation program." 

On Tuesday, the school held an orientation day for seventh-graders, divided into four different sessions from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

"Faculty and staff meetings were conducted as scheduled" on Wednesday, "and we look forward to the opening of school" on Tuesday, DeTommaso and Dunn said in the email. 

Secaur, chief of the Smithtown district, said the positive COVID-19 case was reported to the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, which began an investigation and contact tracing. The health department will notify those who are identified as being a close contact and issue quarantine orders if applicable, he said.

"We share this information with you as part of our ongoing efforts to keep the community informed of issues of concern," Secaur said.

Smithtown parents react

Parents in Smithtown recently held a rally demanding a full return to class for their kids, five days a week. The district's reopening plan calls for a hybrid model for all grades where the students are split into two groups, alternating days of virtual and in-person learning. 

Two parents who want a five-day return for their children said they didn't change their minds after learning of the positive case at St. James Elementary School.

"If the kids aren't coming into contact with that person and isn't sharing the same space, what's the point of giving me a phone call or an email about a positive case?" said Alicia Lam of Smithtown, who has an incoming third-grader in the district. Lam said she would prefer if the district didn't notify parents of every positive case, so as to keep anxiety and fear to a minimum. 

Courtney Lampasona, who has a daughter going into the second grade in Smithtown, also still prefers that her child go in five days a week, though she found the news concerning. 

"As long as the school follows safety precautions, I think it'll be OK," said Lampasona, whose child will be attending a different elementary school in the district. "If it was our elementary school, I probably would be a little more nervous." 

With Bart Jones, David Reich-Hale and Joan Gralla

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