QUEENSBURY — Twenty-year veteran Queensbury Elementary School teacher Joe Traina has been suspended for not submitting to weekly COVID testing.
Traina, who is unvaccinated, posted a message on Facebook on Wednesday saying he believes he needs to take a stand.
“As you know, the state, the powers that be, are asking the district to force everyone to show COVID vaccination, essentially, ‘show me your papers.’ If we do not, we are now asked to be marched down to the nurse’s office essentially wearing our scarlet letter and tested every week,” he wrote.
Traina said he had COVID and he believes the body’s natural system is doing its job. He has been put on unpaid leave indefinitely beginning Thursday.
Traina said the situation breaks his heart.
“But if we all just do as we are told when there is overreach, we are only asking for more overreach. We would have no one to blame but ourselves. Great people died for our freedoms and I know they did that so we too would stand up for what we believe in,” he wrote.
He said he hopes that people will stand up for him — even if they don’t agree with his opinion on the vaccine.
“Please tell your children I’ve already loved my time with them and who knows how things will work out in the end,” he wrote.
Traina told The Post-Star in a Facebook message that he did not want to sit down for an interview until he consults with legal counsel. He said his last day before going on leave was originally going to be on Wednesday. Traina said he sent a message to parents explaining why he was not going to be in school, and the district believes he crossed a line and wanted to start his suspension right away.
“I was told I cannot come in (Wednesday). That I cannot be trusted with the kids. I might spill my political beliefs into them,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Kyle Gannon said in an email he would not comment on personnel issues. However, he did say that 90% of the district’s staff is vaccinated. Testing is being conducted by a staff member in each building.
Schools that violate the testing order are subject to a $1,000 fine and schools could be fined every day they are out of compliance.
“We are following the NYS DOH guidelines, as has been the case since the beginning of the pandemic. The health and safety of our students and staff will always remain our top priority,” he wrote.
Traina has already received an outpouring of support on social media.
“So many of us have had the pleasure to watch him work in a capacity he was born for. As I say often, ‘every child needs Mr. Traina for a school year,’” wrote Stephanie Smith on Facebook.
In addition, resident Jim Ward, who unsuccessful ran for the Board of Education in May, was asked to leave the Monday meeting because he would not wear a mask.
Board President Dan Mannix reminded the public during the meeting that masks are required.
Ward said an email that he was confronted by two sheriff’s deputies when he entered the meeting who told him he needed to wear a mask.
He said there has been no such policy established and no vote to require masks at the meeting. After he entered the meeting without a mask, Ward said school officials instructed police to arrest him.
“I am appalled at the fact that the administrators would instruct officers to arrest a parent of children active in their district for not wearing a mask. While a majority of attendees were wearing ineffective cloth masks and/or wearing masks incorrectly,” he wrote.
Ward criticized Gannon for leaving the state during the height of the pandemic for a sporting event. Gannon did travel to New Jersey in July 2020 because his daughter participated in a club lacrosse tournament.
Ward also questioned why healthy children are being forced to quarantine but the vaccinated are not when they can catch and spread the virus.
“Firing teachers, arresting parents, forcing private medical decisions into the public for the sole purpose of discrimination. When is enough for the public to realize that these people do not care about the kids or the rights of parents?” he said.
Parent Chris Baird also spoke during the public comment period, saying the board should vote for a concrete policy on masks to avoid this confusion.
“It’s not illegal to not wear a mask in here. It’s also not against policy,” he said.
The board needs to set some goals and expectations about how to get back to normal, according to Baird. He said there is a lot of anxiety among parents and faculty members about the COVID policies.
“Everyone is afraid to say anything because they’re afraid to lose their livelihood,” he said.
Michael Goot covers politics, crime and courts, Warren County, education and business. Reach him at 518-742-3320 or email@example.com.