On Friday, Oct. 30, 45 teachers at Connetquot High School called in sick while accusations of an organized “sickout” were reported on social media by community members.
Tony Felicio, president of the Connetquot Teachers Association, adamantly emphasized that this was not an organized movement on the part of the staff, but rather the reaction of concerned teachers to their individual health following a colleague’s positive coronavirus test.
The previous week, a student had tested positive for coronavirus after having already been sent to school by a parent, who thought the symptoms were indicative of a seasonal cold. According to Felicio, teachers and other students were not mandated to undergo testing, but one staff member chose to that following Tuesday.
That staff member tested positive for COVID-19 and set off a concern among staff that they might possibly be infected.
“This person had been in the hallways, in the break room,” said Felicio, “and the school was not shut down when the student tested positive to allow for deep cleaning.”
This series of events, according to Felicio, prompted over a quarter of teachers (there are approximately 185 teachers in total) at the high school to call in sick. But Felicio was quick to deny that this was an organized event.
“If it were an organized sickout, there would be a hell of a lot more,” said Felicio.
Felicio said that as CTA president, he receives a barrage of emails daily from teachers throughout the district with intense emotional distress of the often-changing situation. “The district needs to give the staff the feeling that we’re in this together,” said Felicio.
Another cause of concern, according to Felicio, is the lack of Chromebooks for the students in the district, as many teachers have reported children trying to complete assignments from their smart phones, all the while with spotty Wi-Fi in the school buildings.
“We want to be fully virtual and avoid these situations, but we know the district can’t do that because the students aren’t properly equipped with Chromebooks,” said Felicio.
Additional Chromebooks are on order and expected to arrive between the end of November and beginning of December.
Felicio is steadfast that these are all symptoms of a larger problem. “You can feel the tension on the ground,” he said. “The district needs to allow for more input of the people in the trenches.” According to Felicio, teachers were included in discussion over the summer from early July to early August, but soon afterwards were left out as the superintendent made their decisions about how to conduct the school year.
Connetquot School District commented on the incident in a statement.
“The level of absenteeism was at an unparalleled level and certainly caused a significant disruption to the learning process for our students. Unfortunately, this type of incident was beyond the control of the administration and was not a result of a quarantine directive of the Suffolk County Department of Health Services due to COVID-19 concerns. The district continues to go above and beyond to keep Connetquot students and staff members safe and will continue to do so moving forward.”