According to a 5:12 pm press release from the Bulloch County Board of Education, further implementation of a Bulloch County Board of Education (BOE) quarantine action has been temporarily suspended pending further discussion by the full Board at its October 22 work session.
The decision was made Tuesday, after Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson consulted with the school district’s legal counsel and then met with BOE Chairman Mike Sparks and Vice Chairman Heather Mims regarding receipt of a six page letter addressed to Chairman Sparks from Dr. Kathleen E. Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH).
Georgia DPH Commissioner Warns Board is Out of Compliance – Threatens further action
Referencing her knowledge of an approved Board action that immediately changed the school district’s quarantine protocols in regards to direct exposures to confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, Toomey stated, “this action is out of compliance with guidance issued from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Georgia Department of Public Health, as well as the legal requirements within the DPS’s Administrative Order issued on July 28, 2020.”
Toomey advised Sparks, “Furthermore, I would like to remind you that failure to comply with this Order is a misdemeanor offense pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 31-5-8. Any person who refuses to isolate or quarantine as required by this Order may be subject to further action as may be necessary.”
Toomey ended the letter with the statement, “I respectfully request your Board immediately rescind the action taken on October 8, 2020 to eliminate quarantine requirements.”
Students That Were Allowed to Return From Board Action Will not be required to Quarantine
On October 14, in response to the local decision to temporarily suspend further implementation of the Board’s action, Superintendent Wilson communicated by email to school principals and medical personnel. “We will not tell students who have already been told that they can return to school that they must re-quarantine as a result of this temporary action,” Wilson stated. “Please understand that the DPH still has authority to communicate with quarantined students and their families regarding quarantine requirements.”
October 8, 2020 Bulloch County Board of Education Action
At its scheduled regular session on October 8, the Board 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.”
This Board’s approved action went into effect at schools on October 9. For students who are exposed to a confirmed positive case of COVID-19, a parent could choose if the student would quarantine at home for 14 days or be permitted to remain at school if the student and parent could attest to the following: (1) student was wearing a mask at the time of exposure; (2) student is and remains asymptomatic; (3) student would continue to wear a mask at school; (4) parent would conduct Bulloch County Schools’ self-health check daily with the student; and (5) the student would not come to school if sick or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
During the October 8 Board meeting Sparks said, “This issue (quarantines) didn’t just pop up. I asked the superintendent three-and-a-half weeks ago to methodically and carefully review this issue of quarantines.”
Wilson Warns Board About Revising Executive Order
Wilson stated that he had been in regular contact with the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) during the pandemic, and he 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.”
Parents Concerned About Quarantines
Based on feedback during the Board meeting, it appears the spirit of the Board’s action is to prevent learning disruptions, loss of extracurricular involvement, and negative social and emotional effects that multiple quarantines have on students. Some parents’ comments at the October 8 meeting also expressed a desire to restore parent choice for those who had selected face-to-face instruction for their children. It was noted that some students had experienced three quarantines, which removed them from school six of the eight weeks that school had been in session.
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 14, there have been 102 employees and students who have tested positive for COVID-19. This resulted in 955 total exposures, 65 of which remain in 14-day quarantine. Only 13 of those 955 exposures (1.4 percent) have developed symptoms or tested positive for the virus.
At the Board meeting Wilson said, “I’m frustrated. 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.”