The Fairfield Area school board modified its health and safety plan on Monday in order to reflect the updated guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and to make local policies more clear. Some protections against the novel coronavirus pandemic will remain in place.
Changes included removing the designation of “extremely high” transmission, keeping only “low,” “medium” and “high.”
The district will keep some safety measures such as continuing to practice cohorting.
“Outside of that layered mitigation of a mask, all of those other components we would continue to do,” Superintendent Thomas Haupt said. “I just think it’s part of our practice, quite frankly, moving forward.”
The updates are intended to make the board’s policies regarding quarantining and testing easier to understand in response to questions from the community.
Fairfield’s policies still differ from CDC guidance. The health and safety plan states that once students are exposed to the virus at school, parents have three choices: they can meet the quarantine requirement by wearing a mask in school for 10 days (regardless of whether they have a mask exemption), quarantine at home for five days and then wear a mask for five days, or they can remain at home for a full 10 days.
“The board has carved out previously an exception when those close contact exposures happen in school,” Haupt said. “I would say (District Nurse) Kristi (Ebaugh) and I have received a couple of clarification pieces from last board meeting to now, and that’s why we wanted to spell out the three options that are available to parents, with that exception that the board has already approved.”
All of those options assume the child has no signs of illness.
The health and safety plan still includes a policy of masking when Adams County is experiencing high rates of community transmission of COVID-19, but it is now based on the county’s transmission level rather than the state’s data.
In addition to parent-requested student exemptions, staff members can also obtain their own exemption. As of Monday evening, two staff members had received approval for exemptions, according to Haupt. The CDC recommends masking when transmission rates are high.
“I wanted to share with you those changes from CDC obviously had a pretty significant impact on what the board has approved previously, but even with those CDC changes, I want to be really clear: there really are no recommended changes to the plan,” Haupt said.
Many of the changes are intended to make it easier for parents to understand the CDC recommendations and Fairfield’s policies.
“I think it adds a lot of clarity to the document,” Haupt said. “I would say it’s a lot easier to follow, I think for myself but hopefully for others.”
Haupt noted that the quarantine period is still 10 days, despite some confusion from the public. He and Jack Liller, vice president of the board, said they felt the web page for the CDC guidelines are a bit confusing.
“We’ve heard from several folks that the quarantine period is five days,” Haupt said. “Yes, CDC has that on their website. You need to click the next link. It’s still 10, but these are the provisions that would apply for the 10-day quarantine.”
Board member Candace Ferguson-Miller voiced dissatisfaction with the mask policy remaining in place for high levels of transmission within the county.
“I feel like we’ve crossed that path and we’re mask-optional now,” Ferguson-Miller said. “Can we still tell them no close contact, recommend they wear a mask but not enforce it?”
Haupt said any changes would require a board vote to approve them. The updates presented on Monday were intended to make the policies clearer, but there was no vote to approve any changes.
While students and staff can use their mask exemption most of the time, the only option to go without a mask following an exposure is to stay home. That policy is not new.
“Because of the questions we’ve received over the past couple of weeks, I wanted to make sure that we spelled out clearer for the community that when they get that phone call from Mrs. Ebaugh or another nurse, they can have a better head start of, ‘Here are some of the options that we’re going to present,’” Haupt said. “Knowing that the other two options are also available, if parents are still, ‘I understand my child’s been in close contact and I do not want my child to wear a mask,’ they have, again, another option available to them. That option would be to quarantine for the 10-day period at home.”
Mask orders are no longer in effect for district-owned transportation such as school buses but still apply for privately-owned transportation.
The updated health and safety plan is available on the district’s website.
Kaleb Crawford, the district’s coordinator of tech services, said previously promised grant funding for student Chromebooks was cut back after the Chromebooks were ordered. Funding was cut from $71,000 to about $45,000.
“To be a little more specific, the original number was based on an initial sales quote that I submitted,” Crawford explained. “Pricing actually changed in our favor after the grant because it took three months to receive the grant, so pricing actually went in our favor as supply of the devices became more readily available. So that was one factor, as well as them deciding that we were allocated a certain number of devices and not necessarily a certain amount of money. But working with our vendor, that clarification was not pulled out and adjusted properly.”
The district will keep the Chromebooks despite the financial loss in order to meet its goal of having a Chromebook for each student. Money from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) grant will be used to cover the remaining amount, according to Crawford.
Business Manager Thomas Weaver said the district is considering adding an applicant tracking program, AppliTrack, to the list of programs it uses. Prospective employees would be able to apply on the website and it could potentially simplify the application process for the district. Weaver said the district is performing a cost-benefit analysis to see if it would be worth the cost for the district’s needs.
Andrew Kuhn, the district’s athletic director, said the boys’ basketball team received the sportsmanship award. Coaches in Division 3 voted for the team.
“To me, that’s more important than winning championships,” Kuhn said. “I mean, obviously we want to win championships, but sportsmanship and seeing kids be successful in classrooms is what we’re here for, so they can go to college and everything with that. That’s what makes me happy.”
There was no public comment.
The board held a closed session to discuss legal and personnel matters before the regular meeting.
The next regular board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Monday, March 14 in the district board room. Meetings are also livestreamed on YouTube.