Districts Report Very Few Staff Members, If Any Refusing To Be Tested For COVID-19 At This Time

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone visited Hampton Bays Middle School last year to check out the testing facility. DANA SHAW

Some East End superintendents say that, so far, few staff members have been refusing to be tested for COVID-19, if not already vaccinated. As per a state mandate declared by newly-instated Governor Kathy Hochul last month, teachers and staff members have the option, if vaccinated, to undergo weekly testing, while it’s mandatory for the rest.

“We have not had any staff refuse testing,” East Hampton School Superintendent Adam Fine said Friday.

As per the governor’s first address from Albany on August 24, the state is using $335 million in federal funds to start a back-to-school program launched to make testing for students and staff available and convenient. The Testing in Schools Program is in partnership with local health departments and BOCES. New York City received $225 million directly to initiate the same program.

East Hampton currently has a testing POD, run by Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, for staff at the high school, but it’s only for those unvaccinated.

But other districts, like Bridgehampton, Hampton Bays, Sag Harbor, Southampton, Springs and Westhampton Beach are currently requiring teachers and other staff members to be tested outside of school. In Springs, this is because there is not enough space to offer testing onsite due to ongoing construction related to an expansion project, according to Superintendent Debra Winter.

“We are currently collecting information on individuals opting out of weekly testing if they show full vaccination. We have almost full compliance,” Ms. Winter said. “I have shared with staff where they can go to get tested locally and through the county. Those who don’t submit must test weekly and show proof of such weekly.”

Bridgehampton Superintendent Dr. Mary Kelly said no staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus yet and no staff has refused to be tested at this time.

Sag Harbor Superintendent Jeff Nichols, Southampton Superintendent Nicholas Dyno and Westhmpton Beach Superintendent Carolyn Probst said their districts are complying with the mandates, but did not respond to requests for comment regarding COVID-19 results in staff members nor questions regarding potential denial of staff members to be tested for the coronavirus.

“We are currently working on collecting proof of vaccination from staff members who are looking to be exempt,” Ms. Probst said.

In Hampton Bays, Superintendent Lars Clemensen said staff members are uploading test results to a districtwide system on a weekly basis. He explained the Suffolk County Department of Health Services is working to ensure mobile testing is available in all 10 towns.

“At this time, I believe that our employees will be in compliance with either providing weekly test results or proof of vaccine status,” Mr. Clemensen said Monday, adding that to-date, six students and one staff member have tested positive since September 1. The elementary school staff member whose positive test result was shared with the district September 7 was not present during the infectious period. After an investigation, it was determined that no fellow staff members or students were close contacts. Details on individuals who test positive in Hampton Bays can be found on a public COVID-19 school case dashboard on the district’s website.

Staff members who test positive or are required to quarantine are allowed three paid incidents from the beginning of the calendar year — of up to 14 days each — before sick time must be used. This follows state law, which also says a district is to provide paid leave for up to 14 days per instance.

“It is a great deal to track,” Ms. Winter said. “I am confident we are doing or best to keep everyone safe. We need our parents help in keeping students home when sick and keeping their children home when required to do so when they have been in contact with a positive case.”

In December 2020, the New York City Department of Education posted an internal rule for members of the United Federation of Teachers, warning that those who refuse to be tested for COVID-19 in school would be put on leave and taken off the payroll. Governor Hochul’s office did not respond by press time to requests asking what districts can and should do if an unvaccinated staff member refuses to be tested, or continues to refuse to be tested.