School board discusses quarantine protocols, will look into issue during January work session

During the school board meeting Tuesday night, the issue of quarantines came up, including the suggestion that schools might not be consistently following the proper guidelines.

The topic was first brought up by Thomas Townsend, who spoke during public comments against quarantines and noted that many students have missed significant time from school as a result.

Citing a report released this week by U.S. Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy, Townsend said symptoms of depression and anxiety have increased among young people during the pandemic. Noting that children are less likely to contract the coronavirus, at least compared to adults, Townsend said keeping healthy kids home and in isolation “deprives them of their constitutional rights to a good education and just sets them further and further behind in their studies.”

He mentioned several examples, including hearing from a parent that her middle school student was quarantined for the second time in 30 days. “Her child is not sick and that’s 20 days out of 30,” he said, noting the parent is so frustrated she has considered homeschooling the child.

Townsend told the board that by sending children home, “you are causing devastating harm to them and their families,” and that many parents must either miss work or pay for someone to look after their child.

He concluded his comments by imploring the board to either end quarantine practices or at least shift the burden to the health department and let its staff take over contract tracing.

Shortly after Townsend spoke, board member Anthony Graves mentioned how there seems to be some confusion among the schools about the specific quarantine policies.

“What’s happening is children are getting caught in the middle of this ignorance, it’s not intentional I don’t think and it may be driven by poor communication, but there is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed,” Graves said.

“We need to also make sure that we don’t put an undue economic hardship on families who are just trying to keep their kids in school,” Graves added.

He also called for the central office to remind principals what the specific guidelines are for quarantining students and staff.

Glenda Gibson, who was elected chairperson for the upcoming year, called for a work session on Jan. 11, 2022 so board members could talk about quarantine guidelines and see if anything needed to be changed.

After several weeks of decline, the number of students and staff in quarantine increased sharply last week. A total of 416 people were quarantined from Nov. 28-Dec.4, according to updated data from the district’s COVID-19 online dashboard.  That’s a 62 percent increase from the week prior, when only 256 people were out of school.

There were also 31 positive cases identified, up from 12 the week prior.

According to the state health guidelines, as stipulated in the Strong Schools Toolkit, as long as every student in a classroom is masked, if a positive case is identified, only that individual would have to quarantine.

But since Stanly County Schools is a mask optional district, it has specific guidelines for unmasked students, staff and those participating in athletics who come into close contact with a positive individual while at school.

  • Students and staff who are either fully vaccinated or have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 90 days do not need to quarantine.
  • If they are not fully vaccinated or have not tested positive within 90 days, they must quarantine for 10 days beginning the day after the last contact with a positive individual. From the 11th through the 14th day after contact, they can come back to school, but must wear a mask and socially distance themselves from others.
  • If they are in close contact with a positive individual who lives in their home, they must fully isolate themselves separately and quarantine for 10 days and then once at school, must wear a mask and socially distance the remaining four days. If they cannot isolate separately from the infected individual, they must quarantine until the positive person’s 10-day isolation period is completed and then must quarantine for an additional 10 days.

There is also the possibility for a seven-day quarantine period. In order to be eligible for this, according to the district’s guidelines, individuals must submit a negative PCR test result performed on the fifth day after exposure to a member of the school health team. When documentation is received, the individual will be allowed to return to class or work after the seventh day of quarantine as long as the individual remains masked, physically distanced from others and self-monitors for symptoms through the 14th day after initial exposure.