The death of a 36-year-old Principal of a Brownsville, Brooklyn high school from coronavirus complications brought to light concerns about the Department of Education's policy not to inform school communities of individual cases of the virus.
The department confirmed March 23 that Brooklyn Democracy Academy Principal Dez-Ann Romain died five days after being hospitalized for pneumonia. She was last in the building March 12, five days before the DOE informed school employees and others of her passing.
'She Cared Deeply'
The Council of School Supervisors and Administrators wrote in a statement that "it is with profound sadness and overwhelming grief that we announce the passing of our sister, CSA member Dez-Ann Romain..."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Dez-Ann Romain. Ms. Romain cared deeply about her students and staff, and she will be missed," said UFT President Michael Mulgrew.
Her death marked the first fatality related to the coronavirus in the city public-school system. Mayor de Blasio closed schools March 23, although more than 90 regional enrichment centers were opened in order to provide child-care for the children of health-care workers, first-responders and other essential employees.
Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said that the Principal's passing was "painful for all of us. We’ll be there for the students and staff through whatever means necessary during this impossibly difficult time."
Courtney Winkfield, a strategy and policy adviser at the DOE’s Office of Equity and Access who trained Ms. Romain, said she "was a healthy, vibrant, energetic 36-year-old woman who had one of the toughest jobs anybody could have, and she did it with resilience.”
2 Other Cases at Site?
There is another suspected coronavirus case from the same site: Ronda Phillips, the 49-year-old Principal of Kappa V High School, which is located in the same building as Brooklyn Democracy, has been hospitalized with pneumonia, according to the DOE.
The two schools also share space with Metropolitan Diploma Plus High School and Leadership Prep Brownsville Elementary, a charter school operated by Uncommon Schools. A Teacher at Leadership Prep tested positive for coronavirus and is quarantined at home after first noticing symptoms March 15, two days after the charter school closed, according to Uncommon.
A spokeswoman for the charter network said that staff and families were "immediately informed" about the confirmed case.
But the DOE has received criticism for not doing the same. The agency has stopped confirming coronavirus cases "due to volume," which was based on guidance from the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The DOE stopped letting students and staff know about confirmed cases after the Mayor announced March 15 that schools would close.
'Hard to Trace Back'
Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot said during a March 24 press conference that when there is "broad, community-wide transmission, it is virtually impossible to trace back to a 'point source.' And so that, on top of the fact that schools have been closed for over a week, really speaks to the importance of New Yorkers self-monitoring."
The DOE added that it would support "any school that wants to notify their community of a self-confirmed case."
City Council Member Mark Treyger, who chairs the Education Commitee, called Ms. Romain's death a "wake-up call" for the DOE to revise its policy. He noted that the NYPD has taken a more-transparent approach by continuously updating the public on the number of employees who have contracted the coronavirus.
"Education employees deserve to know the truth as well," he said. "This is an irresponsible, broken approach that I believe is endangering the lives and health of students and our school communities."
David Bloomfield, a Professor of Educational Leadership, Law, and Policy at Brooklyn College, agreed. "If the Chancellor discouraged reporting, that was a significant error," he said in an interview.
Charlene Obernauer, the executive director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, told The Chief that employers "should inform workers of potentially infectious materials on their job site, and that should be extended to include co-workers who may have put an individual's health in danger."
Marina Jabsky, NYCOSH's Industrial Hygienist, added that employers should inform workers of potential coronavirus cases without disclosing the identity of the employee.
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