King William County Public Schools has relaxed its COVID-19 quarantine policy after hearing concerns that quarantined students are spending long periods out of school.
County schools recorded 115 positive COVID cases amongst students since Aug. 24, the board heard at its meeting on Nov. 16. However, the number of students quarantined due to close contact with students who tested positive reached 786 during the same period.
Vice-chair Kathy Morrison highlighted an elementary school student who was forced to quarantine four times.
“It seemed excessive to me and I wondered if there was anything to do to intervene, to have parents have more of a say,” Morrison said.
While she conceded schools have little leeway over the state mask order, Morrison pointed out the quarantine policy is based on guidelines from the Virginia Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Our data does not support the spread of COVID in our school buildings,” Morrison said. “The quarantining protocol is adding tremendous stress to everyone involved in the process.”
Before the change in the rules, students who came into close contact with those who tested positive for COVID faced at least a week in quarantine.
The board voted for a change of rules effective from Nov. 17. It will last until the winter break when the pilot policy will be evaluated.
School Superintendent David White said he reached out to the school division’s insurers and was told the quarantine protocols were based on guidelines as opposed to mandates.
“Masking diligently we would still contact trace but we would put the onus on the parents to ensure that the children they send to schools are showing no symptoms and can continue to learn in the environment wearing the mask,” White said. “Because of proper mask protocols, we are not spreading in our schools.”
Under the new policy, siblings or other students who share a household with a student who tests positive must still quarantine. White pointed out students who come into close contact with positive students who are not wearing masks properly will still be required to quarantine.
The board unanimously backed the relaxation of the quarantine protocols. Members heard from the staff that only about five of the 115 positive cases among students were believed to have contracted COVID-19 in school buildings or on school buses. The board heard four quarantines would equate to a student losing more than 50 school days.
“We want our students in school learning as much as we possibly can,” said board chairman Steven Tupponce. “The quarantine recommendations, based on the data that we are experiencing here in King William County, need to be modified. We do need to roll back.”
“I think it’s a wonderful idea. I sincerely felt for that parent,” said School Board member Veda Frazier. “I think it’s still imperative, for the time being, that we have to remember that we gotta wear those masks.”
During the public comments section of the meeting, board members heard teacher concerns about behavior at King William County Public Schools.
Bianca Cabrera, a veteran teacher at Hamilton Holmes Middle School, spoke on behalf of a group of teachers at the meeting.
She spoke of reading “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein, a book in which a child takes more and more from the tree over time until it’s cut down.
“I suddenly realized that I was the tree and King William County Public Schools was the children,” she said. “The trees breathe life into our world. They are essential. We are teachers. We give. We never expect anything in return for those who take … we bend, but don’t break.”
Cabrera said this model was pre-pandemic and student behavior is now sliding. “We are now facing a unique challenge from children around the hallways with rudeness and disrespect.”
She cited the vandalism of bathrooms inspired by TikTok challenges. “Students will not follow the rules. They are paying the price with education. Learning is suffering because educators are suffering. Morale is low and stress is high,” Cabrera said.
She warned more teachers are taking time off which poses challenges for coverage. She urged administrators to shadow teachers.
“If leadership continues to ignore this crisis, we will continue with a forest full of stumps, or worse, no tree at all.”