MANCHESTER — While one Burr and Burton Academy family was dealing with the worries of knowing they had a COVID-19 positive student, other BBA families were dealing with the unknown, and one father said the school and state’s efforts to notify families fell short.
Ryan Downey has two daughters at BBA, with two more soon to come. The Dorset family is sending the fourth generation of BBA students through the school and Downey said he holds the school in the highest of esteem.
“I think BBA is an excellent school,” Downey said. “We love BBA, they pride themselves on excellence.”
But he said his daughter was in close contact with the BBA student who has tested positive and he wasn’t told by the school or the Vermont Department of Health.
He said that despite reaching out to the school after his daughter believed she had been exposed, the family would never have known for sure, if the BBA senior who tested positive hadn’t chosen to allow himself to be named publicly.
According to Ryan Downey, when rumors of who the student was began to circulate, his daughter, Mylee approached her father and said, “dad, I’ve been in contact with him every day.”
The pair had spent hours after school working on costumes for the BBA theater performance. That meant long periods of time in close proximity every day.
And while they were masked, Mylee was concerned.
But they didn’t know, so Ryan Downey emailed Jim Raposa in the BBA theater department and asked for piece of mind.
Downey said he told Raposa in the email he didn’t want to know the student’s name, but wanted to know if his daughter had been exposed.
But Downey said the school wouldn’t answer the question.
BBA Headmaster Mark Tashjian, in an email late Wednesday afternoon, said he wouldn’t comment publicly on a specific, private exchange with a parent beyond pointing out that the conversation and email exchanges took place before we even knew it was a confirmed case of COVID-19.
But Tashjian shared the general policy the school follows.
“Our policy is to notify everyone in the BBA community if there is a presumed or confirmed case of COVID-19,” Tashjian said. “We work immediately with the Vermont Department of Health to determine who is at risk of exposure. If possible, we contact those individuals in advance of the state contacts.
We do not disclose any information that could violate the privacy rights of the individual who is infected with COVID 19.”
The student infected with COVID-19 chose to reveal his name after Tashjian and Downey’s email exchanges and neither knew the name would be come public.
“In short, we do everything we can to protect the community while respecting individual privacy rights,” Tashjian said.
Downey said he has trouble with rules that prevent him from knowing if his daughter is at risk.
“They’re making decisions about who’s at risk and who needs to be contacted,” Downey said. “I don’t care what your rules are, does my daughter have a class with any student known to be positive?”
Downey said he and Tashjian swapped emails several times Saturday but never got an answer about whether his daughter had potentially been exposed.
“I have a problem with that, and so does our physician,” he said.
He ended up getting all four of his children and his wife and himself tested to the tune of about $400 he said.
He pointed out he runs a business and has to quarantine from his workers. His wife teaches preschool and is now in quarantine, and all four daughters are quarantined as well because they just don’t know.
“We would potentially be walking around the town possibly spreading this,” Downey said, because nobody told them his daughter might have been exposed. “What’s the risk to them to say, ‘your daughter has a class with this kid.’ They’ve made no effort to contact me. I’m not being an alarmist, I’m doing it out of a sense of safety.”
Downey said he doesn’t blame the BBA student who has the virus, saying it’s not his fault. He has an issue with the school and the Department of Health.
“I feel so bad for this kid and his family and all they’re going through,” Downey said.