On Tuesday, Aug. 24, the Islip Union Free School District held its monthly board of education meeting, during which new superintendent Dr. Dennis P. O’Hara presented a slideshow to the community regarding how the district will be handling COVID-19 this upcoming school year.
Before the presentation, O’Hara addressed the divisiveness of issues such as mask-wearing in schools.
“Although I’m a newcomer to Islip, every experience I’ve had so far has been wonderful,” O’Hara said. “It’s just a wonderful community, great school district... I really hope we can stick together through this issue.”
The guidance for Islip Schools was put together by the district’s COVID task force, which has 23 members including three parents and the principals of every school in the district.
“This group was composed of people that were literally on extremes of this issue,” O’Hara said during the meeting. “So, I can tell you very clearly that there were people in this group that had the belief that we shouldn’t wear masks at all, and there were some people that believed masks should be worn all the time while at schools. So, it was not a one-way team.”
When school begins for Islip students on Sept. 2, masks will be required for all students, faculty and staff, regardless of vaccination status, on school buses and while indoors. As of print, O’Hara said this mandate concerns only the month of September 2021.
On Sept. 17, the COVID task force will meet to “study data, identify current trends and make a recommendation to either continue universal mask-wearing or modify the protocol.”
If the need for universal masking extends beyond Sept. 17, the district said a subgroup of the COVID task force would meet every two weeks to discuss the issue and review all relevant data.
There is no word yet if this plan would be at odds with the recently released statement from the New York State Department of Health’s mandate that masks be required in all schools from pre-K to grade 12. Gov. Kathy Hochul has not specified how long that directive would last.
Exemptions to mask mandate
A question brought up during the meeting was if there would be any cases where students could receive an exemption to the mask mandate.
No mask exemptions will be approved without review by the Islip District physician.
Parents who believe their child may have a medical exemption from wearing a mask are asked to send documentation from their personal physician to the school physician. If the school physician has any questions regarding the documentation, they will call up the child’s pediatrician to have a “doctor-to-doctor” conversation.
Students who come to school without a mask and do not have an approved mask exemption will be isolated and remain under the supervision of a staff member for that day.
The slideshow presented at the Aug. 24 board of education meeting can be viewed at http://islipufsd.org/board_of_education/presentations.