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Chillicothe school district adopts state’s further-refined quarantining guidelines

Aim is to keep more health-conscientious students in classrooms after exposure to a positive or symptomatic fellow student, teacher, or staff member by incentivizing mask/gaiter-wearing

Paul Sturm
Chillicothe News

By PAUL STURM, C-T Staff Writer

CHILLICOTHE, Mo. — As the COVID-19 pandemic extends and deepens its reach into outstate Missouri, the Chillicothe R-2 Schools Board of Education adopted further refinement of its quarantining policy with the intent of trying to keep healthy students who are conscientious in the use of mouth-nose coverings in the classroom.

Following a presentation and explanation by Superintendent Dan Wiebers of new recommendations from Gov. Mike Parson and the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the board approved utilization of them at its regular monthly meeting for November Tuesday night.

As more has been learned about the threat of spread of the coronavirus in the school setting through the early months of the 2020-21 school year, the updated guidelines (depicted in the graphic accompanying this story) seek more precision in identifying and segregating those with a high risk of having been infected by contact with someone with it at school.

The district’s previous policy, as suggested by public health agencies and other educational and governmental entities prior to the start of the school year, was to send into a 2-weeks quarantine any staff member or student who’d been in prolonged content at school with a student or staff member who subsequently tested positive for the disease. This step was taken regardless of whether the infected person or those who had spent substantial time around them had been using a face covering.

As at least one district building administrator shared during the discussion with the board, this routinely meant requiring around 15-18 students being barred from attending classes in person for two weeks, even though, in many cases, most or all of those who’d only been in proximity to a person who tested positive never developing symptoms or testing positive themselves. The administrator shared that, in multiple cases, the requirement to pull students out of class and send them home produced what eventually turned out to be needless significant emotional distress at the time.

The now-amended policy still requires immediate isolation of anyone in the school setting who tests positive, but differentiates between what is done with those who were around that person, as well as whether the infected source person was masked or unmasked.

If the “source” was masked, anyone who was not socially-distanced from that infected person, but also wore a mask during the time of possible exposure, will need to self-monitor for an onset of symptoms or get tested over a 14-days stretch, but will be allowed to continue to attend classes in person in the interim.

If an infected person was unmasked during the extended period of time with non-distanced students or staffers, all those who were around them during that time still will need to be quarantined until such time as it can be ascertained (through onset of symptoms or positive testing) whether they had been infected.

In the case of a subsequently-positive person having been wearing a mask while around some who were masked and some who were not, the “source” person still isolates, as before, and  those who had not been wearing a mask are put into quarantine. Those who had been masked will need to self-monitor and/or be tested over 14 days, but may continue to attend school.

Naturally, in a case in which a person with COVID-19 was in close contact with a group of persons and none had been masked, the positively-diagnosed person will need isolation until proven no longer positive or symptomatic and all who had been close to him or her will be quarantined.

Prior to the discussion and action on the amended in-district policy, Wiebers touched on some high points of the Midland Empire Conference’s Board of Control’s policy for fan attendance at winter sports events at conference schools.

As during the fall, when most events were outdoors, attendance will continue to be limited, but with some tweaks.

Each participating student (athletes, cheerleaders, performing dance team members) or coach will be allowed to enter up to six family members’ names on a pass list for each contest. Only those on the list will be permitted entrance and they will be required to be seated as an isolated group about a minimum of 10 feet from the nearest similar group. All attendees will be required to wear masks both to be admitted and while in the host facility.

Additionally, specific to wrestling tournaments hosted by any MEC school, because a larger number of schools will be attending on a single day or two, the “pass list” limit will be only two persons per participant. For non-tournament “regular” matches involving two, three, or four schools, the 6-person limit will be observed.

Because some locales within the conference have even tighter restrictions on crowd size imposed by governmental authorities and those are subject to short-notice change, some schools might have to further limit attendance at some events to less than the six per participant, Wiebers warned.

“The goal of the MEC Board of Control (comprised of each conference member’s superintendent) is to take as many precautions as possible to provide these opportunities for our students,” the conference policy states. “Additionally, it is the goal of the Board of Control to create an opportunity for families to attend these events in person.”

Also related to the coronavirus topic, the “public comment” portion of the meeting saw a representative of one of the district’s teachers’ associations issue a plea for awareness on the board’s and public’s part of the physical and psychological/emotional stresses teachers are facing as they attempt to fashion instruction and lesson plans for both in-person and virtual 

delivery methods. This, the spokesperson noted, effectively means double-planning for each class/topic, leading to growing fatigue.

Chillicothe Middle School Principal Abby Smith shared her concern that, if the coronavirus infection rate in the area continues to rise, as it has in recent weeks, isolation/quarantine instances within the district’s certified (teaching) staff could correspondingly increase and create a need for substitute teachers which the district might have difficulty meeting.

Additionally, Superintendent Wiebers asked board members to consider, in order for the district to make necessary plans and possible staffing adjustments, whether parents and students ought to be required to declare by Dec. 18 whether they will want to receive only “virtual” instruction during the second semester. Some board members indicated a reluctance for requiring a full-semester decision at that time, suggesting a by-quarter option might be preferable.

Tuesday’s meeting had little else in the way of significant action.

At the superintendent’s recommendation, the contract for a paving job at the Litton Agri-Science Learning Center went to low bidder Spalding Constructors at a price of $68,300. The other two bids were at or above $80,000.

At the accepted bid price, the $75,000 donation made to the district by the Mervyn Jenkins Foundation for the construction of a 450-feet-long, 24-feet-wide, 7-inches-deep steel-reinforced concrete driveway (with flared entrance) from the adjacent Livingston County road to the Jenkins Exhibition Center will cover the entire cost.

The winning bidder has pledged to have the work completed by mid-January 2021, although that is not a stipulation of the contract, Wiebers responded to a board member’s inquiry.

The Chillicothe school board also approved adoption of a new policy and administrative procedures related to sexual harassment under Title IX of federal education law. The district superintendent will serve as the district’s Title IX coordinator under the new policy.

The board took the pro forma step of officially declaring two 3-years terms on the board – those seats currently held by Lindy Chapman and Paul Thomas – will be subject to the annual school district election on April 6, 2021.

The filing period for candidates for those seats will be from 8 a.m. on Dec. 15, 2020, through 5 p.m. on Jan. 19, 2021. Prospective candidates must file at the district headquarters during normal business hours.