With the federal and state guidelines on Covid ever changing, school policies this year may seem uncertain or confusing. Dr Frank explained any questions you may have about back-to-school procedures concerning Covid, masks, vaccines, quarantines, and more. As told by Dr Adam Frank to Amber Wright.
What are the Covid guidelines in place this year and how do they differ from last year’s?
They certainly can change depending on what happens in the future and any kinds of guidelines or requirements from the health department or the governor’s office… Masks are not required but they are definitely permissible. Some students and staff will certainly decide to wear masks and there will be others who don’t; again, they won’t be required. There may still be isolations and there may still be quarantines, so if a student or staff member tests positive for Covid, then there will be a 10-day isolation. There may be situations where somebody has been in close contact with a positive case, and so they may then quarantine, as in the past. What we will not be doing is widespread contact tracing, however we will be receiving reports of Covid positives, like, for example, a staff member or a student who reports [that] they tested positive and then they’re absent during that time. If there is a spike in positive cases within a certain proximity, then we may be looking at next steps in terms of keeping people safe.
Going off of the contact tracing point, does that mean that teachers won’t be required to create seating charts to keep track of that?
Teachers are already going to have seating charts just for the purposes of attendance and knowing their students, so if there were to be a spike, and we’re made aware of that by students reporting positive cases and thus they’re absent, we would very easily be able to do some contact tracing in terms of exposure if we needed to.
What are the D-38 sick leave policies for the staff members as it intersects with Covid?
If a staff member tests positive, then they’ll take sick leave. Same thing with a student: if they test positive, they’ll be absent for medical reasons. What will not be happening is the synchronous teaching or learning when a teacher or a student is absent. So we will deal with those absences kind of how extended absences used to be treated before Covid existed.
So during that 10 day period, say they tested positive for Covid and they isolated that amount of time, they would not be required to do any sort of virtual learning?
That’s the major difference, is that we’re not looking at a cohort of students who are at home or a whole class who are at home online. So if it is one kid, then the teacher will not be in a situation to do synchronous learning with that student. However, any time a student is absent for an extended period of time, even before Covid existed, our teachers will do everything they can to communicate the best they can [about] what’s going on in class. Students can try to secure assignments through the counseling department to work on things at home. Our make-up policy, our absence policy still applies, so students have time to make up that work when they return to school. The student will definitely be accommodated, but they just won’t be receiving live teaching through virtual means during the class period.
How much does the Delta variant concern you and the school district considering it’s affecting more young people than the previous variants?
I think that everything going on with Covid right now is still very much a concern, so I think we’re very concerned, and we’re paying attention to the science and we’re collaborating with district office and we’re collaborating with families and then also relying on guidance from the health department… I think there are differences from where we were at the beginning of the pandemic. Namely, access to vaccinations.
Do you encourage students and teachers to get vaccinated?
Our district is not, we are not, taking a stance on telling people what they should do with their own health choices. That’s a personal decision, so no, we are not mandating vaccinations. That’s a family and a personal decision and consultation with their medical prerogatives.
At the end of last year, we were encouraged to, those of us who were vaccinated, were encouraged to file our vaccination card with the nurse so that we would not be quarantined if we came in contact. Will that system still be in place for this year?
The guidances on that for students have changed anyways with the changes with exposure. But like for staff members, if someone is vaccinated, it can have an effect on whether or not they need to quarantine [if someone they come into contact with contracts Covid]. Whereas isolation is completely different… [If you have] tested positive, vaccinated or not, [and need to isolate].
School closure is always a possibility when we’re in an ever-changing pandemic, so what kind of policies are continuing from last year? Like are there x number of students who have been quarantined, or x number of staff, to make that decision?
That’s all gonna depend on what circumstances arise. I think at this point we can’t say for certain that if this happens, we’re going to do that. What is true is the district and the schools are going to be closely monitoring what they have a right to monitor and if there is a spike in positive cases, then I think it will be a time at which the district starts to discuss next steps. But there isn’t a “if this, then that” decision that we’re taking a stand on.
One other thing that arose last year was that we actually went into a school closure because we didn’t have enough substitute teachers for our staff members who became sick. Do we have a good number of substitute teachers to try to avoid that in the future?
We are not anticipating a shortage of staff members or substitutes based on Covid-related circumstances or high numbers of positive cases or isolation. Could it get to that point? If circumstances change, possibly, but no at this point that’s not a dilemma that we’re currently facing.
What has your experience been so far coming into a new school during pandemic?
Covid affected not only the entire nation but the entire world, so at my previous school and previous community, we were dealing with the same stuff. So it doesn’t feel unfamiliar to me.
Have you gotten to know some of the new staff members this year?
Yes, I feel like, for as short as I’ve been here, I feel really good about the relationships that have been created with the staff. It helps that I was hired back around March/April and I’ve been involved in a lot of virtual calls with the leadership here in the district. I flew back in for four days, I don’t know if you saw me when I came in, and I did a lot of meet-and-greets with teachers and I surveyed the staff, I surveyed the students too, so I feel like there’s been a lot done already to build comfort and familiarity. Even in the couple weeks that the staff have been back, I feel like a lot of good relationships have been created. Everybody has welcomed me in tremendously, so it’s been really good.