Dr. Brad Lindell, who works at Connetquot High School, said...

Dr. Brad Lindell, who works at Connetquot High School, said in a letter Tuesday to the Board of Education that teachers who try to enforce the mandate are not backed up by the district. Credit: James Carbone

This story was reported by Lisa L. Colangelo, Bart Jones, Keldy Ortiz and Carol Polsky. It was written by Jones.

A school psychologist now sick with COVID-19 says the Connetquot School District is not enforcing a state indoor mask mandate, and the situation at the high school is "out of control," with most students wearing masks under their nose or chin — or not at all.

Dr. Brad Lindell, who sent a letter to the Board of Education laying out his complaints, also accused some school board members of ignoring the mandate because of a "political agenda," while the teachers union head said the district is caving in to "anti-mask" parents.

The school district said Wednesday it is following state guidelines and enforcing them. The union said it has been formally complaining about the problem since the start of the school year — and it is getting worse every day.

The complaint came as President Joe Biden's administration said Wednesday it will distribute 400 million N95 masks for free starting next week in another step to bring the record-breaking omicron surge under control.

In New York State, Gov. Kathy Hochul has ordered that all students and staff in schools wear masks indoors.

Lindell, who works at Connetquot High School, said in his letter Tuesday to the board that despite following "all protocols" and limiting contacts outside school, "I now sit at home isolated from family suffering the symptoms of the virus. …While the mantra of the district is that COVID doesn’t spread in school," Lindell said, he "and many of my colleagues who have been stricken with the virus, can only attest to the fact that the school is the only place where the virus could have been contracted."

What to know

  • A school psychologist now sick with COVID-19 says the Connetquot School District is not enforcing a state indoor mask mandate.
  • Dr. Brian Lindell said the situation at the high school is "out of control" with most students wearing masks under their nose or chin — or not at all.
  • School officials said they are following the state mandate, and denied they are caving in to anti-masking parents.

Many students walk the hallways with masks under their noses or chins, and that when asked to wear them properly respond with an "attitude," Lindell said in the letter.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Lindell said the situation is "out of control," as the majority of the students in the high school don’t wear the mask properly and teachers are powerless to force them to do so.

"The limit and the expectation was not set at the beginning of the school year, not in a firm manner" by the administration, Lindell said. "Kids just felt that they did not have to comply."

The school district, in a statement Wednesday, said: "Throughout the pandemic the district has worked to enforce all state mandates within an educational setting. We have followed directives from health officials and communicated those guidelines consistently with students, teachers, staff and the community. Our building administrators ensure these protocols are in place on a daily basis in order to support the well-being of our schools."

When asked to respond Wednesday afternoon about Lindell’s comments, Connetquot school board president Lee Kennedy said the district "does not need to be put on the spotlight."

"Health is my concern," Kennedy said. "I don’t believe these comments reflected on me personally so I have no reason to reply."

Later, the board released a statement: "As the governing body of a school district, the Board’s role is to uphold the policies put in place by state and local officials. In that capacity, we have adopted and mandated all Covid health and safety measures within our schools. While individual Board members are entitled to their personal views they do not impact the way in which the Board or district operates and this includes regulations on school masking."

Tony Felicio, head of the Connetquot Teachers Association, said he has complained to district officials about the mask problem repeatedly through emailed letters since the start of the academic year. "Often we get lip service or no response at all," he said.

"Each day, each week, more and more students are not wearing the masks" in the high school and middle schools, he said.

Felicio added that district officials are afraid to anger anti-mask parents and are not enforcing the mandate. For example, a morning PA announcement reminding students to wear a mask is now rarely heard, he said.

"The message was clear: Let’s not enforce this," Felicio said. Students are almost never disciplined for failing to wear a mask properly, he added.

Lindell wrote in the letter that teachers who try to enforce the mandate are not backed up by the district. When one referred a student for discipline due to noncompliance with the mandate, the parent called the superintendent to complain and the student was switched out of the class into a nontenured teacher’s class, said Lindell, who is also vice president of the local teachers union.

"The teacher herself had to defend her own actions," Lindell wrote. "The message was sent to the staff. Don’t refer for noncompliance. The message was sent to the students. No need to comply."

The school district on Wednesday denied any students were reassigned classes due to mask issues.

Lindell in his letter accused some board members of undermining the mandate by spending months contemplating joining a lawsuit to get the mandate dropped, and through other comments.

"It is clear to me and many fellow staff members that certain board members are primarily concerned about their own political agenda and catering to their base more so than the health and safety of the staff they employ," he wrote.

Massapequa changes policy for students with COVID-19

Meanwhile, in the Massapequa school district, parents were sent a letter announcing that as of Monday, students with COVID-19 who are isolating at home "will receive remote instruction only after five full days have passed. It is our hope that most children who test positive for the virus will be able to return to school after the five-day minimum quarantine period, and our normal district protocols for making up schoolwork will be in place during that time."

Students who still have symptoms on the sixth day of staying home will be eligible for remote learning. That "will be re-evaluated after five days or less if symptoms subside," according to the letter from the Board of Education and Central Administration. "A doctor’s note will be required to continue beyond five days of remote learning."

Brian Conboy, the interim superintendent of schools, said in a statement that he saw the new policy as encouraging students to return as quickly as possible to in-person instruction. He also downplayed the impact of days without remote instruction.

"With the adoption of the five-day quarantine, and most students thankfully recovering rapidly, we are encouraging students to return as soon as they are able, while also encouraging anyone who is sick, whether it is COVID related or not, to remain at home," he said.

"Most students would not miss five full days of instruction if weekends were part of their five-day recovery time," he added. "Additionally, school work is provided for students using our normal pre-pandemic protocols for absent students."

"We firmly believe that live instruction and the social/emotional benefit of it should remain sacrosanct as we work to progress toward normal," he said.

Daily Positivity Rate

Nassau: 12.9%

Suffolk: 13.9% 

Statewide: 11.49%

7-day Positivity Rate

Nassau: 15.9%

Suffolk: 17.5% 

Statewide: 14.27%

Source: New York State Department of Health

Most COVID-19 indicators continued to drop in state data released Wednesday, though they remained relatively high. Statewide 165 people died on Tuesday of causes linked to the virus, including 15 in Suffolk and 9 in Nassau.

Long Island’s seven-day positivity level fell to 16.68%, while the number of new daily cases was 1,605 in Nassau, 1,559 in Suffolk and 23,375 statewide.

Health centers eager for federally provided masks

Biden’s team made the announcement on free masks as federal officials are emphasizing their better protection against the omicron variant over cloth face coverings.

The masks will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers.

CVS said in a statement it is preparing for the delivery and distribution of the masks, though it did not have full details.

David Nemiroff, president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit Long Island Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), which has six facilities in Nassau County and three school-based health centers, said he has not yet heard whether they will be part of the distribution plan but will be ready "in a heartbeat."

"We have given out masks before," he said. "Any time we get a donation, we give them out. If the federal government gives them to us, we will give them out."

Nemiroff said the centers had struggled in the early days of the pandemic to get enough N95s for their own clinical staff.

"I think it’s important," Nemiroff said of improving access to N95s. "I think it’s better to wear any mask. I think the surgical masks are good. With omicron, the N95 are better."

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