Classes were back in session at East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School on Monday after district officials shut the building down for three days when a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus.
The school had been closed for six months before classes resumed. East Rockaway school officials announced on Sept. 15 that the school would be closed from Sept. 16 to 18 in the wake of the positive test. Students worked remotely from Wednesday through Friday before returning to the building on Monday. Rhame and Centre Avenue elementary schools continued with normal operations.
“This afternoon, the district was notified that a staff member at the East Rockaway Jr./Sr. High School tested positive for Covid-19,” Superintendent of Schools Lisa Ruiz wrote in a letter to the community posted on the district’s website on Sept. 15. “The district immediately activated our health response plan, put all safety protocols into place and contacted the Nassau County Department of Health.”
The district followed guidelines from the state and county health departments, and worked with officials on contact tracing to determine whether anyone else was at risk of infection. The school switched to a remote-learning model as a precaution during the investigation.
The unidentified staffer who tested positive will not be permitted to return to the school until 10 days after a negative test result is provided to the district, according to county and state guidelines. Any staff members who had close contact with the individual have been identified and were required to quarantine for 14 days.
When students returned to school on Monday, parents had mixed reactions about sending them back into the building. Responding to a Herald inquiry on Facebook, Pamela Castellano said she was “wary” of a return, while Kristen Ahrens Martin offered a different perspective, commending school officials for working to mitigate the issue.
“The district did a phenomenal job with all of the details to open the high school,” Ahrens Martin wrote. “The staff and children wear masks. The children are in one classroom for multiple periods while social distancing. We quickly went to virtual learning for days without any issues and they have cleaning processes in place. I personally feel it’s safe to send my child into school.”
Before the school year began, the East Rockaway district invited more than 100 stakeholders from the school and community to develop plans for the reopening of schools. Officials created a three-option model for students in all grades, including full in-person, hybrid and remote-only models. Additionally, all teachers received training and instructional tools needed to support students, assess their progress and provide regular feedback. Social distancing, wearing of face coverings and face shields, use of polycarbonate dividers, daily health checks of students by parents, frequent hand washing and use of sanitizing stations are also now required.
Ruiz wrote that any areas of the building that may have been affected would be disinfected. Before the school reopened Monday, those who were required to quarantine were contacted by health officials and asked to follow state and local directives.
“We will continue to work closely with the Nassau County Department of Health and take all necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of our school community,” Ruiz wrote. “The East Rockaway School District is committed to implementing measures to protect students and staff from exposure to Covid-19. We are taking these steps in an abundance of caution and believe this is the most prudent course of action at this time. We will continue to work to make sure you have all the information you need to make informed decisions about your child’s health.”