EDITORIAL: Issues with Schreiber COVID-19 health screening form

Editorial Board

Last fall, in order to track the health of its students and faculty to comply with New York State Department of Education guidelines, the Port Washington School District instituted a daily COVID-19 health screening form.  Each school morning, parents or students are emailed a link with which they have to answer a series of questions in order to receive a green thumbs-up icon that allows them to enter school buildings.  On the surface, this form may appear to be a valuable tool to prevent potentially COVID-19-positive students or faculty from attending school.  In reality, however, the form has several problems that must be redressed.

The form asks about the student’s travels, if the student or any members of their household have recently exhibited potential COVID-19 symptoms, such as a fever, cough, or dry throat, and if the student or household members have recently tested positive for COVID-19.  Unfortunately, the form is designed in such a way that very few people actually read it carefully — or at all — before responding.  The choices “no” and “yes” are not presented after each question, but instead only once at the very bottom of the page, beneath questions that are combined into a singular turgid block of text.  As a result, students and parents quickly learn to skip over the text and simply select “no” each morning — the only acceptable answer for those who intend to enter the school — without even considering what the questions ask.

This design also prevents the form from collecting specific details about respondents’ health statuses, as respondents’ answers “yes” or “no” apply to the questions collectively, rather than to each individual question.  As a result, it would be impossible to discern based on the form whether a student who answered “yes” did so due to a dry cough, their travel history, or any other reason, despite this information being key to gaining a picture of the state of COVID-19 in the district.  

Port Washington’s daily health screening form, though well-intentioned, was hastily conceived.  It should either be revised to collect answers to questions individually or done away with entirely, as the form’s current design reduces accuracy and specificity of responses to an extent where it is hardly, if at all, effective or informative.  Further, school officials should continue to place an emphasis on other COVID-19 safety measures — such as social-distancing and mask-wearing — in recognition of the fact that they cannot be replaced by a form.