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School board considers looking into ways to minimize quarantines

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Jay Galbreath during WCS school board meeting

District 6 school board member Jay Galbreath presented to the board a resolution that he drafted, which would support Gov. Bill Lee using executive power to adjust the definition of “close contact” to reduce the number of quarantined students in schools.

The Williamson County Schools Board of Education work session Thursday featured more COVID-19 talk, including a discussion about recommending Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee change the definition of “close contact.”

District 6 board member Jay Galbreath shared a resolution he drafted to get feedback from the members. As drafted, the resolution would support executive action by the governor to change the definition of “close contact” as it pertains to quarantine to reflect “the effectiveness of masks and distancing as reasonable mitigation,” with the goal of reducing the number of required quarantines in schools and perhaps elsewhere.

District 7 board member Sheila Cleveland and Dan Cash, District 2, supported the idea, Cleveland saying it might be a good idea to give “the governor a little push.”

“I think there has to be some type of change, so I believe that pushing a little bit is not a problem,” Cleveland said. “It’s just letting us say we need … to do some type of change, whatever that change may be, because we know it’s not perfect.”

District 11 board member KC Haugh pointed out that quarantine, as opposed to isolation, is meant for healthy people who have been in close contact with a known positive case to lower their risk of getting the virus.

“I do understand that there may be too wide a net being cast a times, but that may be where we’re at now,” Haugh said. “I’m really reluctant to put our thumb on the scale.”

Along similar lines, District 4 board member Brad Fiscus shared details pertaining to quarantine are set at the federal level — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — and that going against those protocols could become a liability.

District 5 board member Jen Aprea clarified the discussion is meant to be around when quarantine is enacted, not necessarily the details of the quarantine itself, such as quarantine length. She explained she thinks the idea is worth exploring, though more data and information is needed to determine whether a change would be appropriate or feasible.

District 12 board member and board chair Nancy Garrett asked the board if they were in agreement that they “want to improve the quarantine situation for students” and also “want the staff to look for ways to minimize quarantines.” No one expressed opposition at that point.

In other news, WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said it looks like the district will have “net students on campus” next semester compared to this semester. He said there will be fewer online students at the elementary and middle levels, but high school online versus on-campus numbers are close to the same. He said some online teachers may have to switch to on-campus teaching.

WCS Executive Director of COVID Response Gary Anderson gave an overview of the school’s response to the pandemic so far, saying if a school nurse determines a student has one high-risk symptom, such as difficulty breathing, loss of taste or smell, a high fever, or two low-risk symptoms, such as a runny nose, chills, headaches, nausea, then they should be sent home. The student then could either stay home for 10 days, return to school with documentation of a negative COVID-19 test, or return to school with written documentation from a licensed healthcare provider.

District 1 board member Angela Durham and Galbreath expressed concern over these options, saying they would not want to go through those processes if their child has a runny nose or allergies.

Golden and Anderson added that nurses are asked to document if a student typically has seasonal allergies so as to prevent sending a student home unnecessarily.

“Our nurses know our students and do have some judgment within that, so this is not 100% end-all-be-all,” Golden said.

The school board will meet again for its full meeting on Monday, Oct. 19, at 6:30 p.m. The board will meet virtually, and the meeting can be viewed at wcs.edu/domain/1164.

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