When I saw that Toms River had a thousand students in quarantine, I thought about writing an article, but I didn’t and now I’m glad I didn’t. Because my daughter became one of them.
Does she have COVID? No. Was she exposed to someone with it? No. She had a cold. It’s her basic, back-to-school bug that she gets every year. I was actually very surprised she got it this year since she was wearing her mask and we’ve been careful.
I called the school nurse at 6:30 in the morning on Monday, September 27, and was told in a very friendly and helpful manner what needed to be done. If my daughter had two or more COVID-like symptoms (in this case a sore throat and a runny nose) then she had to have a negative test in order to come back. It takes 2-7 days to get test results from the location we went to. That’s at least a week on quarantine for nothing. But, we must follow the rules. And besides, could you imagine going to school with a runny nose and having to wear a mask? Gross. Also, she would have to tell every single person “No, it’s just a cold” all day in every one of her classes.
So, we went to the Rite Aid in Bayville and did the drive-through self-test with the nasal swab on the night of September 28. As I’m writing this editorial, it is Monday, October 11 and we still have not got the results back. That’s two weeks of quarantine for a cold. She hasn’t even had symptoms for a week. Ocean County is in an upswing of cases, and no one – not even the testing centers – are prepared for it. I imagine that, like my daughter, most of these tests are going to come back negative, but they are being done to be on the safe side.
One of her friends is in the same boat. She had a cold and is home awaiting the results. Another friend was exposed to someone with COVID and had to stay home but did not contract it. Both of these are TR kids.
My friend’s son, another TR kid, tested positive for COVID. I don’t know if he got it from someone at school or elsewhere. They were fortunate: mild symptoms, didn’t spread to anyone, and he’s fine now. So there are some kids that have it.
When the article came out that exposed an “outbreak” in Toms River schools, I became worried about the misinformation it provided. Another newspaper wrote about it, and out of professional courtesy I won’t poke too many holes in it (although they shouldn’t have quoted Board candidates in it).
The interim superintendent responded that some of the stats reported were cumulative numbers – dating back to the beginning of the pandemic, not the current total. Apparently some people failed to read the fine print. He also said how a lot of the confirmed cases came from outside of the school. This happened last year, if you remember. End of year summer events, like Labor Day barbecues, led to some spreading of the virus and the kids start school right after Labor Day.
One problem has to do with reporting statistics. As they say: “There are lies, there are damned lies, and there are statistics.” Cold numbers are one piece of information, but unfortunately in this story, that is the only information that was reported.
Clearly, just looking at the number of quarantined students does not equal the number of sick or even exposed people. Yet, everyone now thinks that Toms River is a haven for COVID. Most people only read the headlines anyway as they scroll through on Facebook. They’re not going to learn of the nuances or even what the district’s version of this information is.
The school district did its best to mitigate the damage done by the article but it’s like closing the barn door after the cow escaped.
It seems like the newspaper that originally published the piece has taken the article down from its website. However, the district appears to have stopped providing the calculations of how many people tested positive or are quarantined on its home page (it got moved to here: trschools.com/community/tr-safe-return). It’s a shame that their transparency caused misinformation to make them change this.
That’s not to say Toms River did everything they were supposed to. I’m not letting them off the hook that easily. My daughter attends one of the schools that is not air conditioned throughout. She did say that in the first week, when masks were optional, that people took it as a way to flaunt the rule. It was a loophole. Even a few teachers and staff members went without. She said that after the really hot days, staff all masked up and enforced the rules. Of course, this is a kid reporting this information so I’m not taking it as gospel (even if it is my kid).
My family has been in education for decades. I know that in the trenches, rules get skirted because they have to. A big mandate comes down from on high and it leaves the people who actually have to deal with it scratching their heads. How can you have kids with sensory issues wear masks? How do you add more duties – like cleaning surfaces – to an already overworked staff? How do you keep kids six feet apart in classrooms that were built for stockpiling 30 to a room? The answer is you can’t. Not all the time. You do your best and hope for the best.
Sure, the superintendent said that he has seen the mask mandate enforced everywhere he goes in the district, but aren’t you always on your best behavior when the boss is around? In my estimation, in every job I’ve ever been in, the people who spend their day in an office know the least of what’s really going on.
I asked my daughter if I could write about her experience in this before I started. I guess my point is that you can’t just look at the numbers. You have to look at the reality of it. (This is my argument against standardized testing but that’s another editorial.)
The only absolute is that there are no absolutes. As a parent, you have to trust that educators have your child’s best interest at heart. And in my experience in the Toms River schools – both as a parent and as a graduate – they do.