Education

Southold superintendent, board members address delayed school opening

Southold School District Superintendent Dr. Anthony Mauro conceded Wednesday that he made the “wrong decision” when he hosted a large group staff meeting in the days before school was expected to reopen this month, a move that contributed to a two-week delay for in-person instruction after two staff members tested positive for COVID-19.

Dr. Mauro made that statement during Wednesday night’s meeting of the Southold Board of Education, though board members said they disagreed and felt he should not blame himself for what happened.

The decision to close schools, which came more than two days after the district learned of the positive tests, was based on a delayed recommendation of the Department of Health to quarantine 86 employees of the district who had attended one of the staff training sessions, Dr. Mauro said.

“They quarantined so many of our administrators and teachers and bus drivers and other employees that it was impossible for us to do school,” he said.

The superintendent pointed to the fact that those quarantined included bus drivers and school nurses as a particular hinderance to reopening on time.

Dr. Mauro clarified that the staff meetings were held in two groups and that those quarantined all came from just one of the groups.

He said in total he had seven discussions with the Department of Health and it wasn’t until late Monday afternoon, two days after learning of the positive tests, that the recommendation was given for closure. Families were then notified on the evening before school was expected to open.

Dr. Mauro said the DOH has told him that because Southold was among the first districts to report a positive test the decision-making was delayed. He said they are already making those decisions in a quicker fashion.

He also said the district will not schedule any more large group meetings among staff this school year.

“The fact that we had a positive case [reported] 48 hours after our first meeting was a fluke and it was the only time this year that could possibly happen,” he said.

After the superintendent conceded that he made the wrong decision to host the meeting, school board member Judi Fouchet said she disagreed.

“You said you were wrong but you weren’t wrong,” she said. “Although we quarantined, there were no further cases, which means you did have our faculty and staff in here, in a safe manner.”

School board president Paulette Ofrias expanded on her colleague’s statement.

“Quite often in the world today people want to blame somebody,” she said. “There’s no blame for what happened at the start of the school year.”

The district had been schedule to open on Sept. 8, but instead delayed the start of in-person instruction to Sept. 18, with all students practicing distance learning before that date.