Port Washington school district modifies COVID-19 notification system

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Port Washington school district modifies COVID-19 notification system
The Port Washington School District has modified their coronavirus case and close contact notification system. (Screenshot by Robert Pelaez)

The Port Washington school district has agreed to provide more specific information about  coronavirus cases among students and teachers after hundreds of parents urged the district to provide greater transparency.

Previously, the district was notifying parents of the number of cases in each school and telling them when their child was in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.  The new measure ensures that parents will be notified of positive cases in specific grades and of the grade where their child was in close contact with an infected person.

The new “dashboard,” as members of the district’s Board of Education referred to it during a Sept. 21 meeting, will provide parents with more insight into cases as opposed to the state’s COVID-19 Report Card, which was established last year.

Since the start of the school year, according to state figures, there have been 46 positive cases in the district among students, with 22 at Carrie Palmer Weber Middle School, nine at Paul D. Schreiber High School, nine in Guggenheim Elementary School, four in John J. Daly Elementary School, and two in John Philip Sousa Elementary School.

There have also been five teachers and three staff members who have tested positive since the beginning of the school year, with one teacher and two staff members at the middle school, two teachers at South Salem Elementary School, one teacher and one staff member at Manorhaven Elementary School and one teacher at Daly Elementary School.

While district officials and residents acknowledged that the dashboard would provide more detailed information, a petition that received more than 400 signatures advocated that cases in specific classes be included.

District Superintendent Michael Hynes, during the Sept. 21 board meeting, said it would be prudent to have the proposed dashboard model in place for two weeks before further updates are  made, if needed.

“There’s a lot of things to consider and I think the general consensus was … let’s at least look at what we have in front of us,” Hynes said. “One thing that I think is really important is doing our homework as far as what other districts are doing as well.”

Trustee Rachel Gilliar advocated that the dashboard provide more information and details to residents due to the severity of the pandemic and potential ripple effects for families.

“To me … withholding this information doesn’t allow parents to make decisions based on what they know their own personal family’s risk level to be,” Gilliar said.

Gilliar told members of the board and the public that she did not believe the district was doing anything “wrong” or “illegal” by not being more specific about coronavirus cases or close contact data, but desired to see more specific information published. Cases of strep throat, she said, are released by the district, and parents with children in the same class as another student with strep are notified.

Board President Emily Beys said the recommendation of the district’s reopening committee was to wait the two weeks and reassess if it is necessary to provide more specific information. Vice President Julie Epstein said there were “multiple factors” taken into consideration as to why more specific data will not be part of the dashboard for at least the first two weeks.

“I think that at this point, it would be overstepping our bounds to ask for this recommendation to not be given a chance,” Epstein said.

The district’s reopening committee, Epstein said, included a variety of district officials, parents and health care professionals. Trustee Adam Smith touted the work of the reopening committee, but also disagreed with the decision to not provide more information to parents.

“I think it’s logical to notify the class,” Smith said. “Not notifying people seems purposeful. It doesn’t make sense. It’s the wrong decision.”

Board members asked Hynes and Assistant Superintendent of General Administration Chris Shields to bring concerns to the board.

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