Tamara Dunlap Monday night made it clear to the Broadalbin-Perth School District Board of Education Monday night that her Facebook group “Quarantine the Quarantine” is growing in numbers and will continue to lobby local governments and New York state to loosen COVID-19 guidelines regarding school-related quarantines.
“To date, we’ve had representatives speak at every board of education meeting in our county, we’ve met with the Fulton County Public Health Director Laurel Headwell, Assemblyman Robert Smullen, state Sen. Jim Tedisco and to the Fulton County Board of Supervisors,” she said, and then listed news media reports about the groups activities. “I’m speaking to you today to make sure you’re aware that we are still here. We’re still going strong.”
The Quarantine the Quarantine Facebook has grown from approximately 600 people to 970 as of Monday evening. The group’s moderators include Tamara and her husband Brad Dunlap, both parents of students in the Broadalbin-Perth School District.
Tamara Dunlap told the Broadalbin-Perth school board she thinks school officials in Fulton County need to do more to push back against New York State Department of Health mandates regarding quarantines of students and school district staff, which can occur even in cases when a person exhibits COVID-19-like symptoms without a lab-confirmed positive case.
“Unfortunately it feels like the group making the least amount of noise is the group that should be making the most — School districts have been quiet,” she said. “Privately, we have had dozens of teachers and school employees reach out to us, stating their support for the group. Many have stated they are not in favor of continuing another school year like this … we want to propose that our schools take a different approach. We want to propose that our Fulton County school districts come together and take a stand to show they are not OK with the current guidelines, as well as future ultimatums that may continue to put our children in quarantine and isolation. We would like to request our teachers and school administrators be a voice stating that remote and hybrid schooling is hurting kids, hurting teachers and hurting families.”
So far during the school year, Broadalbin Perth has had 1,370 total quarantines of students and staff members, stemming from 46 separate incidents of either a lab-confirmed COVID-19 positive test of a student or staff member or a suspected case of a person with COVID-19 symptoms. Some of the quaratines have lasted for as few as two days and others lasted for two weeks.
Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson said the vast majority of the 46 incidents that resulted in quarantines for his district were not lab-confirmed COVID-19 exposures, but “presumed positive” cases.
“Any student who comes to school that’s showing a sign or symptom that’s COVID-related, has to be considered presumed positive, and a presumed positive causes a quarantine,” Tomlinson said. “In terms of actual positive cases that have resulted in quarantines, those numbers are very small in Broadalbin-Perth.”
According to New York State’s “COVID-19 Report Card” data for Broadalbin-Perth, so far 76 Broadalbin-Perth students, out of a district total of 1,697 students, have tested positive for the virus, but only one of those lab-confirmed positive cases occurred on-site at the school district. The report card also showed 27 district staff and teachers have tested positive since September 2020, out of 260 total staff and teachers who work at the district.
Tamara Dunlap said her own three children at the district have been quarantined at least twice since September, once in October and then again in February.
“Our oldest son didn’t want to go to school anymore because he was skiing and doing club soccer, and had a little bit of a social life and at every turn he was getting quarantined,” she said
She said her son chose to convert to “remote only” learning, so he could continue to play sports with less of a concern about being quarantined from an exposure at school.
The Quarantine the Quarantine group has called for an end to the remote learning option at schools starting in the fall.
Broadalbin-Perth’s quarantine numbers are similar to the other K-12 school districts of similar size in Fulton County, with Johnstown having 1,166 quarantines, even though it had a significantly higher number of on-site positive cases at 30, 21 being students, 5 teachers and 4 staff members. There was only 1 student positive case off-site. Johnstown has 1,407 students and 217 teachers and staff.
In Gloversville, since September there have been 1,579 quarantines, based on 77 students testing positive for COVID-19 on-site, 22 teachers and 20 staff members and whatever “presumed positives” occurred at the district.
Tomlinson said some of the presumed positive cases at Broadalbin-Perth have resulted in quarantines of as few as two people and some as many as 100.
Tomlinson said he believes Broadalbin-Perth has an obligation to the health of the larger Broadalbin and Perth communities that extends beyond just the confines of the school district.
“We have as a school system, which, by the way, is the most active organization within the broader community, and the largest employer,” he said.
“We are the most active organization in a small community. We have to remember there we have a very strong commitment to the health and safety of our community members. We have to remember that every single day when I send a child home from our school or into a living environment — which in many cases could be a grandparent, could be somebody that exhibits a higher impact type of health situation — we have to always know that we’re not compromising the health and safety of somebody in that home by what we do within our school. So one may say, well, you know what, Mr. Tomlinson, that’s not your responsibility. That’s the responsibility of the people in the homes to take care of themselves. I can’t get into a debate about that. I can just tell you that I have a real strong commitment to making sure that what we do in Broadalbin-Perth is not compromising the health of anyone in the home by sending children into homes that may be medically compromised.”
After Tamara Dunlap’s remarks, Broadalbin-Perth School Board President Stephen Syzdek indicated he is sympathetic to her cause.
“We hear you, we are in agreement with you, and we’ll certainly have further discussions about any decision we can formally take,” Syzdek said.
Tamara Dunlap’s comments come at a time when Fulton County continues to be the most COVID-19 vaccine hesitant county in the greater Capital Region area with only 37.2% of its approximately 53,591 residents having received at least one dose of vaccine.
Fulton County also ranks at the bottom of the rural Mohawk Valley region for percentage of residents who’ve received at least one dose of vaccine and well below neighboring counties Montgomery (47.7% vaccinated, out of 49,455 residents) and Saratoga (57.3% vaccinated out of 230,163 residents). As of Monday, Fulton County was fifth from the bottom among New York state’s 62 counties for vaccinated percentage of residents.
Fulton County also continues to rank near or at the top of local counties for 7-day COVID-19 positivity, at 1.7% on Monday, higher than Montgomery County’s 1.4% and Saratoga County’s 1.5%.
Tamara Dunlap said her group is focused on the rules for quaratines, although some of its members frequently post comments and articles critical of vaccination and mask-wearing mandates.
After the school board meeting she said she believes the vaccine issue will be connected to the issue of changing quarantine rules for schools and mask wearing mandates at schools.
“We’ve let some of the posts about vaccines and masks stay on [the Facebook group page] because I think now they are coming directly into play with how the quarantine is going to go,” she said. “It’s quite relevant right now with our cause.”
Tamara Dunlap is a dentist and her husband Brad Dunlap is a chiropractor, both have refused to say whether they have been vaccinated or will be vaccinated. Although COVID-19 vaccines have now been authorized for children over the age of 12, Tamara said she does not believe parents should be pressured into allowing their children to be vaccinated against COVID-19, in part because the vaccines have not yet received permanent approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“I think they’re going to use vaccination as a bargaining tool for children, saying your children won’t have to wear the masks and your children won’t have to quarantine, if your children get vaccinated,” she said. “I feel like those are the choices we’re going to be given. I feel like maybe that’s not ethical, because it’s a new vaccine, because it’s not FDA approved, because they’re pushing things so quickly and because children are the least vulnerable, maybe we don’t push this on them, yet.”