Dr. Dennis Riker, Superintendent of the Nazareth School District, presented a revision to the district’s health and safety plan at the school board meeting on October 26. During a brief PowerPoint presentation Dr. Riker said that the district gets once-a-week updates on Covid transmission in Northampton County. The curve has leveled out and is coming down. Dr. Riker said he anticipates the downward trend in new cases will continue and engaged in discussion with other local school administrators about the impact of students going into isolation when they are exposed and the hardship on parents who sometimes must scramble to find childcare. The district provides other avenues for children who cannot attend school, but Dr. Riker said he believes that face-to-face learning is the best option. He then presented a slide with numbers of cases across the schools showing data that students isolating because of coming in contact with a Covid-positive person were not generally testing positive in great numbers. In the high school there were 16 cases that required 34 students to isolate, of which zero tested positive. In the middle school there were 18 cases that required 55 students to isolate, of which five tested positive. Dr. Riker noted that of those five positive cases there is no way to tell if they were the result of being exposed at school or if they got infected elsewhere.
The new plan would still include contact tracing, but the main change will be that no quarantine is required if students are not showing symptoms even if they have been in contact with a Covid-positive student. Students who live with someone who has tested positive for Covid, have symptoms, or test positive themselves would still be required to stay home from school and abide by the protocols in place. If the board does vote to change this policy, there will be a mechanism in place to reinstate the old policy of isolating anyone in contact with someone who has tested positive. This would take effect if more than 25 students in any of the medium-sized schools, which includes every school in the district but the high school, test positive or if 45 students in the high school test positive. Dr. Riker said that he did not consult with any health experts or employment associations on this proposed change in policy.
Some of the public in attendance immediately commented on the potential changes, evenly split for and against. A parent, Jason Janus, clarified that they didn’t consult health experts about a health policy change and most of the parents who were against the change agreed that experts should be consulted. One of the parents who lauded the change was Jennifer Simon who thanked Dr. Riker and said the “evidence is right in front of us” to back up making the adjustment to isolation protocol. Another parent, Nick Caruso, felt that the medical experts are prejudiced against opposing viewpoints.
“It is clear that a facility like St. Luke’s has a political agenda. They have a biased opinion,” Caruso said. “Can we get an opposing set of experts?” he asked.
The board did not vote on the policy change at this meeting but will at a future meeting.
After public comment Dr. Riker addressed some of the concerns of parents.
“We have heard of no vaccine mandate and hopefully it won’t be the case,” Riker said. He also said there will be no vaccine clinics at the Nazareth Area schools. Dr. Linda Stubits, President of the Board, backed up Dr. Riker on his assertions.
The next Nazareth Area School District Board Meeting will be on November 9 at 7 p.m.