Privacy and the Public’s Right to Know about COVID in the Schools

As summer turns to fall, and life moves indoors and classrooms across Connecticut reopen, no one should be surprised when the first cases of COVID-19 crop up.

But if the recent outpouring of public anger and confusion on social media over an isolated off-season case in East Haddam schools is any indication, you might be taken aback by the outsized, if understandable, uproar as parents and staff come to realize that even in the case of a deadly and infectious disease possibly spreading in the schools, the public’s right to know holds less sway than a patient’s medical privacy.

In the case of East Haddam, the administration, including school Superintendent Brian Reas, did just about everything right when it came to releasing the information. The East Haddam schools quickly alerted the community of the infection. Reas was candid and spoke to CT Examiner’s Julia Werth at length about the case.

But asking the public simply to trust is a tall order, especially when the procedures and efficacy of contact tracing in America are in doubt.

These days it’s hard to expect anyone of either party to trust government to both do the right thing and do it well.

For our own part, our coverage came under fairly withering fire for what we knew was an accurate, but carefully vague report on the case of COVID-19.  Again, these days it’s hard to expect anyone of either part to trust the press.

So what to do? I’m not really sure I have an answer, other than to suggest that school districts practice, clarify and communicate these procedures in advance of an actual case.

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