Southampton High School
Last week, following the latest guidelines from the Suffolk County Department of Health, the Southampton Union Free School District reduced its mandatory isolation period, in some cases, from 10 days to five days, for students and staff who tested positive for COVID-19 — only to reverse it on Tuesday night.
Effective January 18, students who tested positive and were intending to return on day 6 are now required to isolate for the full 10 days, according to an email sent out by the district.
“The district is working on designs that will ensure 6-foot spacing in cafeterias, in all buildings, and when that is confirmed, students will be able to return on day 6, after testing positive,” the email says. “This is to ensure when masks are removed for eating, there is 6-foot spacing designated.”
The previous amendment had trickled down from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which approved the shortened isolation period pending an improvement of symptoms. For Southampton Schools, that means fever-free for over 24 hours and other symptoms “starting to alleviate,” according to Tricia Desiderio, assistant superintendent for student services.
“We have people who are furious and angry and upset and want to come back to work, or want their children back in school within the five days,” she said during a School Board meeting last week, “and then you have others who are saying, ‘Do not incorporate this, you don’t have to do it, why are you allowing people to come back after five days?’
“There is a lot of emotion attached to this and the best we can do is assure that we do our due diligence — whether it’s five days or 10 days — and continue to keep the emphasis on our safe environment, which is having every teacher keep their students with their masks on, and address it immediately if they’re not,” she continued.
School Board Vice President SunHe Sherwood-Dudley once again challenged the district’s COVID-19 policies, speaking out against enforcing children to wear masks all day — and punishing them if they don’t.
“I’m being told that kids are being told that if their masks fall below their nose or they’re not on, they’re gonna get detention — and I find that atrocious, actually,” she said.
“You represent a contingency that shares that sentiment, SunHe, and then there’s this other contingency that has a very fierce argument on the other end of the spectrum,” Desiderio responded.
“This has nothing to do with wearing masks or not masks. I’m just saying that there isn’t a single adult in any of the buildings that goes all day — from the minute they enter the doors to the minute they leave — with a mask on their face,” she said. “I’m willing to bet that every adult in there finds a place to take a mask break, whether it’s between classes, whether it’s going to the bathroom, whether it’s going to their car, whether it’s someplace. I’m willing to bet that every adult has a mask break, and to expect a child not to have one is absurd to me, that’s all.”
“I hear you, and I don’t think that’s the expectation, that we’re expecting our children to not have a mask break,” Desiderio said, adding, “We do encourage that, as long as it’s done thoughtfully and with safety first, but we don’t want children to not have an opportunity to have a break, that is not what is being dictated by building leadership or administration.”
“I disagree,” Sherwood-Dudley said.
Several public comments addressed the pandemic — one called for a remote learning option during the COVID-19 surge, another demanded to “let our kids breathe and stop all these unnecessary tyrannical policies,” and the last asked how students who tested positive will be handled in school on days six through 10, specifically during lunch. Currently, the CDC guidelines say that isolation should be followed by another five days of wearing a mask around others.
“We are not separating children at this point. If the Suffolk County Department of Health is permitting and saying it’s safe that they can return, then they are returning to school,” Desiderio said, adding, “The cafeteria is set up where there is some separation of students. The last thing we would do is want a student to return and feel isolated or ostracized because they had COVID.”
One fine body…