Frightened for her unborn child, Raquel Iacurto, 32, begged school officials to shut PS 199 Frederick Wachtel in Midwood and warn others about possible contamination, but she only hit roadblocks.
“I had a lab report and a letter from my doctor. It still wasn’t good enough,” the fourth-grade special-ed teacher told The Post.
Despite her pleas, the city Department of Education did not close the school on March 17 — 19 when the entire faculty was mandated to report for training on remote learning. What’s more, students and their parents flooded into PS 199 classrooms on March 19 to pick up books, iPads and laptops.
“All of my kids came in to get their stuff. They pretty much emptied their desks,” Iacurto, who was home sick, said she heard from colleagues.
It takes two to 14 days for symptoms to appear after a person is infected with COVID-19, and the virus can be transmitted in that time, experts say.
The five other staffers who tested positive include Andrew Rosenberg, 43, the union chapter leader, who also pushed for the school’s closure.
Faulting Mayor de Blasio and schools Chancellor Richard Carranza, Rosenberg charged, “Their complete negligence should be investigated. They insisted on keeping the schools open without acknowledging confirmed cases, and knowingly put tens of thousands of people at risk.”
City Councilman Mark Treyger, the education committee chairman, said he is equally furious.
“They never shut the school down. They told
DOE spokeswoman Miranda Barbot said a teacher’s “self-reported” lab result was insufficient. The school had to wait for official confirmation from the city health department.
“We’ve taken each potential case seriously and followed a clear protocol outlined by the state, which required health department confirmation to close,” she said. The DOE became aware of Iacurto’s “potential case” the weekend de Blasio decided to close schools for students, but left them open for three days of teacher training.
Iacurto, now 28 weeks pregnant, conducted parent-teacher conferences on Thursday, March 5. That day she met with about 24 parents in her classroom. She taught class the next day, and the following Monday and Tuesday. That Tuesday, March 10, was her last day at school.
“I started feeling symptoms when I came home from work,” she said, citing sinus pressure and body aches. “When I woke up the next day, I had tightness in my chest.”
Iacurto went to a walk-in clinic, where doctors suspected she had an upper respiratory infection, but sent her home because she didn’t have a fever. The next day “I woke up in a pool of sweat,” she recalled.
Her OB/GYN sent her to the ER at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in nearby New Hyde Park.
She was quarantined while workers monitored her baby’s heart rate, finding slight fluctuations. Three days later, on March 14, the baby’s heart rate had normalized. Iacurto was given a test for COVID-19 and discharged. That night, the hospital called with the results.
“I was shocked,” she said.
Iacurto immediately called her principal, Rosalia Bacarella, who said she would alert the District 21 superintendent, Isabel Dimola.
Iacurto emailed the principal a copy of her doctor’s note, which stated she had tested positive for COVID-19.
When PS 199 opened for business on Tuesday, March 17, Iacurto called to ask why. Bacarella said the city Health Department had not confirmed her COVID-19 case. The principal said custodians had cleaned on Monday, “and that was it.”
Meanwhile, the Nassau County Department of Health received Iacurto’s lab results, but because she lives in Queens it had to send them the NYC Health Department.
Iacurto sent the lab report to Bacarella. “I kept asking, ‘Is anything being done? Is there anything else I can do?’” she said.
She called 311, the city’s help line, explaining she was a teacher who had tested positive for COVID-19. Clueless, the operator said, “I don’t know what you want me to do.”
The teacher replied: “The school’s not shut down. The Health Department has to be contacted to confirm the case.”
The operator said she would transfer Iacurto to the health department, then disconnected the call.
“At that point, I was so aggravated,” Iacurto aid. “I was trying to help my colleagues out, and I was getting nowhere.”
Rosenberg, whose classroom is next door to Iacurto’s, worked all day March 19, handing out supplies to students, and gathered materials to start teaching remotely. The next day he fell ill, and tested positive March 21.
Shannon Grieg, 27, a paraprofessional, last worked in school on Friday, March 13. By Monday, she had pain in her arm, followed by fatigue, chills and a 103-degree fever. She tested positive that Sunday.
“Thank God I didn’t go in, I would have infected everybody,” said Grieg, who has a 3-year-old son.
Another paraprofessional last worked with kids on Friday, March 13. She tested positive last Monday.
Iacurto’s co-teacher did not go in last week because she already felt ill, Rosenberg said. She tested positive last Sunday.
The city did not close PS 199 until March 20, after all six staffers had tested positive — and after the training sessions and student pickups had already ended.
Despite the six COVID-19 cases, the DOE is unconcerned that staff, kids and parents still came in the building. Spokeswoman Barbot said in an email, “The city’s health department was clear that a positive case in the school or workplace environment did not put others at higher risk than did anywhere else in the city.”