Education

SWR rethinks handling of K-5 COVID-19 cases

The easiest way isn’t always the best way.

That was the message Shoreham-Wading River Superintendent Gerard Poole delivered to his school board last week, along with a proposed revision to the school district’s response to reports of a positive COVID-19 case among students or staff members in kindergarten through-fifth-grade classes.

The current district procedure when someone in that group tests positive calls for the entire affected class to be automatically quarantined for 10 days from the date of exposure. That quarantining is intended to prevent spread.

Mr. Poole said the district’s reopening committee met a couple of times to discuss a more “nuanced approach” that would offer more flexibility.

In his presentation to the school board on Jan. 19, Mr. Poole pointed out that SWR has not had school spread in K-12, including the 10-plus K-5 classrooms that have been quarantined. He said the Suffolk County Department of Health has advised that a K-5 classroom quarantine need not be automatic.

The proposed change would call for an affected K-5 class to be dismissed early or not report to school. Its students would pursue distance learning until contact tracing for a positive case is completed. The district would then make a decision on whether to quarantine individuals or the class. If contact tracing results are unclear or reveal significant exposure for all, the class may go on distance learning for 10 days.

Mr. Poole called it “a little more of a nuanced approach instead of a blanket quarantine for the entire class.” He said, “If it’s muddy, then we’ll err on the side of caution.”

As it is, mask-wearing students are kept six feet apart in buildings that are disinfected nightly, said Mr. Poole.

“We know that quarantining a student is disruptive to the student’s life, it’s disruptive to the family’s life, to the teacher’s life, the teacher’s family,” he said. “So, the decision to quarantine, we want to take a little more of a nuanced approach to it … Just basically saying, instead of automatically quarantining the class, let’s stop, hit the pause button, look at it and — knowing that it’s disruptive, knowing that we’re not getting positives when we identify close contacts — make a thoughtful decision on that practice.”

School board vice president Katie Andersen said: “To make a change like this, it feels almost counterintuitive, like a relaxing of the rules, so when I got this presentation, at first glance, that was my initial reaction. ‘Why would we like relax, in essence?’ But then, at the same time, the bullet point that you had in terms of taking a close analysis of the spread and how we haven’t had a single instance where a quarantined class had an additional positive case as a result of being in the classroom with that individual who was positive, it caused me to take pause and really understand the need for a second look at this, so I see that in terms of getting our students the best possible experience and in addition to keeping them safe at the same time that it does make sense, and so I appreciate that.”

Mr. Poole said the reopening committee wants to share the proposed change with families and staff.

Earlier in the meeting, Mr. Poole said that while the county had an 8% positivity rate and the state was at 7% as of Jan. 18, 91 SWR students and 23 staff members had reported positive since the start of the school year for a 4.3% rate for both.

SWR has in-school instruction five days a week.

“To succeed in that mission, we were kind of embarking on uncharted waters here, and it is, to me, so significant to see that our numbers do not reflect any higher cases in comparison to our neighboring districts and the rest of Long Island that had to resort to a hybrid model,” Ms. Andersen said. “It certainly was a challenge that, as a parent, I can’t thank the administration enough for those efforts because, ultimately, our students were just as safe if not safer than they would have been in any other district, but they’re here every day and it’s priceless. The long-term effects of this we will see in a positive way for years and years to come.”