School board hears, responds to virus concerns


Questions were raised during last week’s school board meeting about a large number of students and personnel being quarantined because of possible exposure to COVID-19.

Superintendent Haydee Robinson confirmed that as of the Aug. 25 meeting, 13 students and two staff members had tested positive for the virus, while 139 students and four staff members had been quarantined.

The concerns came up early in the meeting during the public comment period. Two people asserted that quarantines were being forced and used inappropriately.

Also, Ridgeview High School teacher Linda Tipton urged the board to change a policy that has personnel using up their accrued sick days for virus-related absences. Tipton said she and others have family members with serious illnesses, and school staff members can’t afford to use up their accrued time to cover for quarantine conditions.

The school system is using some of its virus response funding to fund an additional wing at the new elementary school under construction. Some of that money should be set aside to cover the costs for staff members who are losing time because of illness or quarantines, Tipton said.

Later, Robinson noted that changes in state law have tied school officials’ hands to an extent. She said they have received many questions about options to provide virtual learning or use a hybrid virtual and in-school system.

Last year, she explained, an emergency order allowed the state superintendent of public instruction to waive mandates about the amount of required instructional time during the school year. The superintendent of public instruction does not have that authority this year, she said, and school divisions are expected to provide 180 days or 990 hours of instruction, even if that requires using unscheduled days to make up lost time.

The school division will make decisions about closing a school due to high virus transmission only in consultation with local health department officials, Robinson said. All-virtual instruction would be limited to a short period, about 10 days, she said.

The number of students in quarantine is very frustrating for us all, Robinson said. School divisions should be prepared to transfer students in and out of virtual learning, based on decisions driven by health department guidance, she added.

Robinson emphasized that making those transitions between virtual and in-school learning was easier last year, but a change in state law pushes schools to focus on in-person learning this year.

Later in the meeting, Robinson said she thinks school officials need to look at the concern about emergency pay for employees. Complicating factors include the fact that some staff members are fully vaccinated and some are not vaccinated, she added. The central office will look at the numbers, look at what other school divisions are doing and bring a proposal to the board soon, she said.