A scathing New York Times report released Saturday highlighted policies in Camden County Schools as an example of how some districts across the country are intentionally keeping information quiet about positive COVID-19 cases.
According to the NYT article, a confidential Aug. 5 email from Deputy Superintendent Jon Miller explicitly told school administrators: “Staff who test positive are not to notify any other staff members, parents of their students or any other person/entity that they may have exposed them.”
The message went out the day after students returned to classrooms in Camden County, the first local school district to reopen its doors.
The NYT article indicated the email was sent amid rumors swirling on local Facebook groups that a teacher had tested positive for coronavirus.
Since schools reopened, some parents have been told by local officials that they should quarantine their children and more rumors have spread, pointing to at least nine positive cases in the districts and entire classes being quarantined, the Times reported.
News4Jax spoke with an employee who provided a copy of an email they received from the deputy superintendent. The school district employee who sent News4Jax the email wanted to remain anonymous, but said, “I feel as if the district wasn’t being transparent with their parents, students or staff. As a staff member, I was concerned that I wasn’t even able to make my colleagues that I come into contact with on a regular basis aware should I myself test positive for COVID-19.”
The email went on to say, “It is not their job to do so. This is handled and initiated through contact tracing by the Department of Public Health ... If this occurs, we will work with DPH and give you further direction on contacting other individuals who they deem as being exposed so they may take proper precautions based on the decision guide.”
All the while, the district has refused to publicly confirm cases or answer questions about positive cases, including multiple requests from News4Jax since Aug. 13 for information and comment.
The employee who News4Jax spoke with said, “I’m not aware of positive cases at our school, but wouldn’t know because that information is not being shared with staff,” and that, “I feel that it is unethical for my employers to dictate who I choose to speak with about my own health conditions.”
Nearly two weeks after the school year began, Camden County reversed its policy on face masks and said students, staff and visitors will be required to wear them on campus. The district did not indicate if that policy change was connected to any positive cases in the district.
A spokeswoman for the Coastal Health District, which includes Camden County, told News4Jax the Georgia Department of Public Health does not release specific school, business, church or workplace outbreak information except when it deems it necessary, as in a case where health department officials can’t locate individuals who may have been exposed to COVID-19.
“Some school districts have chosen to release general information about positive cases and others have not, but that is a school district decision and not a public health one,” Ginger Heidel said. “Any confirmation of cases would come from Camden County schools.”