After receiving a letter Tuesday from Dr. Kathleen E. Toomey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health, the Bulloch County Board of Education temporarily suspended a change to its quarantine policy that was enacted last Thursday.
Bulloch County Schools Director of Public Relations Hayley Greene made the announcement Wednesday afternoon in an email to parents and a release to the media.
During its scheduled regular session last week, 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."
That action allowed Bulloch County Schools students and employees who came into close contact with individuals with COVID-19 to not have to quarantine for 14 days, if they wore a mask and continued to wear one while in face-to-face school and remained symptom-free.
In her letter addressed to board Chairman Mike Sparks, however, 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.”
Additionally, Toomey advised Sparks in the letter, “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.”
In the release, Greene said: “Further implementation of (the) Bulloch County Board of Education action (changing the quarantine rules) 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 (Commissioner Toomey’s) letter addressed to Chairman Sparks.”
In response to the local decision to temporarily suspend further implementation of the board’s action, Greene said in the release that Superintendent Wilson sent an email Wednesday to school principals and medical personnel concerning students whose quarantine status had changed with the action by the board last week.
“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 said. “Please understand that the DPH still has authority to communicate with quarantined students and their families regarding quarantine requirements.”
At last Thursday’s board meeting, Wilson stated that he had been in regular contact with the Georgia Department of Public Health during the pandemic, and he had 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 said at the board meeting. "I don't think this superintendent or board has ever done this before in terms of revising or adjusting a standing executive order."
In her release Wednesday afternoon, Greene said, “It appears the spirit of the Board’s action (in adjusting the quarantine policy) was 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 Aug. 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, Greene said.
As of Wednesday, 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, or 1.4%, have developed symptoms or tested positive for the virus, Greene said.