By Stefanie Jackson – Accomack County Public Schools amended its COVID-19 mitigation plan Tuesday night due to COVID-19 policy changes at the federal and state levels.
Tonya Martin, coordinator of school health services, said the CDC has changed its definition of “close contact” to being within six feet of another person for at least 15 minutes within a 24-hour period, even while wearing a mask.
The new, stricter definition of close contact means more Accomack school staff and students will be sent home to quarantine for 10 to 14 days after potential exposure to COVID-19 in school.
The Accomack schools COVID-19 mitigation plan also was changed to align with new statewide restrictions put in place by Gov. Ralph Northam when he amended several COVID-19-related executive orders on Nov. 13.
For example, executive order 63 was amended to lower the minimum age of children required to wear face masks in most indoor, public spaces, from age 10 to five.
The plan also has adopted the Virginia Department of Health Algorithm for Evaluating a Child with COVID-19 Symptoms or Exposure for use by school health staff.
It’s presented as a flowchart listing a series of yes-or-no questions about COVID-19 signs and symptoms, leading the user down one of multiple paths toward a recommended course of action such as sending the child to school, keeping the child home, seeking medical care and/or COVID-19 testing, and putting the child in isolation or quarantine for a certain period.
The algorithm can be viewed at https://www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/ uploads/sites/182/2020/08/Evaluating-Symptoms-in-a-Child.pdf
Other new language in the plan specifies the five key strategies for mitigating the impact of COVID-19: wearing face coverings, social distancing, hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting, and respiratory etiquette (such as coughing or sneezing into a tissue).
The plan now specifies that mask breaks should not exceed two minutes. However, students also get breaks from wearing face masks for 15 minutes while eating breakfast or lunch and while they are outdoors and spaced at least 10 feet apart.
A parent of a student who cannot wear a face mask for medical or other reasons may apply for an exception.
Clara Chandler, director of human resources, discussed how staffing is impacted by teachers frequently being sent home to quarantine for two weeks after exposure to COVID-19.
One consequence is that Accomack now employs many long-term substitute teachers, since a substitute teaching position becomes a long-term position on the sixth consecutive day that the teacher covers the same class.
The long-term position pays more, because a long-term substitute normally does the same job as the regular teacher, preparing and presenting new lessons and conducting assessments rather than simply monitoring the classroom.
But substitutes covering for teachers in quarantine aren’t really doing the same amount of work as a regular teacher, and many of them do not have bachelor’s degrees, Chandler pointed out.
For this reason she proposed a temporary policy change that would not give substitutes long-term status until their 11th school day in the same class — after the average, two-week quarantine period has ended.
Chandler noted that some teachers in quarantine are working from home, providing virtual instruction, and substitutes are only needed to monitor the students in the classroom. She recommended also paying these substitutes by the regular daily rate.
Her third recommendation was to allow substitutes to work in more than one Accomack school.
A motion was made to accept the temporary policy changes, which passed unanimously.
In another matter, Superintendent Chris Holland announced that an order of 1,900 Chromebook laptops had arrived and nearly 1,200 were delivered to schools on Monday.