In perhaps one of the first of its kind decisions in the state since schools resumed in-person learning in August, Bulloch County will halt the process of quarantining students who have been exposed to COVID-19 under certain circumstances.
At its scheduled regular session on October 8, the Bulloch County Board of Education unanimously approved a motion from District 4 Board Member April Newkirk to “reconsider the Department of Public Health guidelines, and if a student is exposed to a COVID-19 positive person, if the student that is exposed is wearing a mask, and it has been documented, they do not have to follow those guidelines of quarantining for 14 days,” the school system said in a press release Friday afternoon.
Parents will still be notified if their child is exposed and can still choose to voluntarily quarantine.
The decision goes into effect immediately.
From the news release from Bulloch Schools on Friday:
Students and staff who are currently quarantined can return to school immediately, given that they remain asymptomatic and continue to wear a mask. Monitoring efforts were discussed, and the superintendent was asked by the Board to look into how the district can implement additional measures. School nurses have been made aware of this decision, and each school will notify quarantined students that they may return to school under the conditions outlined by the Board. Isolation protocols remain in effect for those who are sick.
After the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson said, “There are good reasons for their (Board of Education) decision, and we are all looking forward to implementing these revisions to the best benefit of our students.”
During the meeting Board Chairman Mike Sparks led off the discussion by stating, “This issue didn’t just pop up. I asked the superintendent three-and-a-half weeks ago to methodically and carefully review this issue of quarantines.
Earlier in the meeting the Board also heard from five parents who spoke during public participation. They knew the topic was on the agenda for discussion, and they expressed their support for the Board to change its quarantine protocols. One parent had collected more than 150 signatures via an online petition.
“I am empathetic and sympathetic to this issue, but as a superintendent, I have to ensure I respect the Board and the laws of the state,” Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson said.
Wilson stated that he has been in regular contact with the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) during the pandemic and has discussed the matter of adherence to DPH orders and guidelines with legal counsel.
“The school district has been operating under an administrative order from DPH due to a public health crisis, and it gets its authority from the Governor’s executive order,” Wilson stated. “I don’t think this superintendent or Board has ever done this before in terms of revising or adjusting a standing executive order.”
Since the district reopened schools on August 17, with parent choice of virtual or on-campus learning, it has partnered with DPH to implement COVID-19 isolations, contact tracing, and 14-day quarantines of asymptomatic persons who had direct contact with a positive case. As of October 9, there have been 97 employees and students who have tested positive for COVID-19. This resulted in 900 total quarantines, 151 remain in quarantine currently and only 13 (1.5 percent) of those have developed symptoms or tested positive for the virus. The school district maintains a real-time COVID-19 reporting website.
The response on social media Friday evening was stiff.
For weeks Board members, educators, and parents have offered feedback and discussed their concerns about the learning disruptions, loss of extracurricular involvement, and social and emotional toll that multiple quarantines have on students and faculty.
“I’m frustrated,” Wilson said. “Superintendents across the state are frustrated, and we’ve expressed our frustrations to the DPH. We appreciate the board’s support and efforts to help our students get back into school, and we want to continue to work in that effort by being diligent together.”
Parents who wish to change instructional models (from virtual to in-person or from in-person to virtual for Spring semester) can do so October 12-16. More on that here.