Board discusses updated health guidelines, high schools’ return to masking

Board members also received updates regarding the “Test to Stay” program and the Staff COVID-19 Leave policy


By Gabby Delpleash

The school board meets for their regularly scheduled board meeting to discuss the JCDHE’s updated guidelines regarding isolations and recommended quarantines Monday, Jan. 10

Gabby Delpleash, Mill Valley News editor-in-chief

The school board received a health department update from superintendent Frank Harwood and discussed the return to masking at the high school level as COVID-19 cases in Johnson County increase as well as an update on the “Test to Stay and Learn” program at their Monday, Jan. 10 meeting.

In a powerpoint presentation, Harwood shared with the board that the COVID-19 positivity rate in the district had increased “dramatically” since the week of Dec. 13 triggering the reinstatement of the mask mandate at the high school level for at least two consecutive weeks.

“Average daily attendance for the week of Jan. 5 was the lowest it has ever been since Nov. 2020,” Harwood said. “There is a large increase in exclusions  for isolations and recommended quarantines. [Among students], only two quarantines and one isolation from last week are considered to be school related, most of these cases are coming out of the holidays.

He added that vaccine rates among 12 to 17-year-olds experienced a consistent increase since the beginning of the school year putting the district at “about or a little bit above” the county average for COVID-19 vaccinations.

Sharing new information on staff absences and substitute fill rates, Harwood said the recent increase in staff absences creates a “disruption to various different things.”

“In 2019, our substitute fill rate would be well above 98% teachers.” Harwood said. “By Nov. of last year, available subs began to drop pretty low with fill rates being in the 60% to 70% range. For the 2021-2022 school year we had low fill rates until we raised the sub rate causing the fill rate to go up.”

Two people spoke during patron input, one urging the board to get rid of the mask mandate on the elementary, middle and high school levels. The other patron, De Soto Teachers Association member Emily Valdez “respectfully” requested an extension of up to 10 days for paid COVID-19 leave for all certified and classified staff citing the addition as “an adhesive action the board can take to support its employees in need.”

Our staff members bear the burden of this increased risk of exposure as they show up each day to ensure that our schools stay open,” Valdez said. “Many of our staff believe it is fundamentally unfair to ship this financial burden on employees just as the risk to those employees increases through no fault of their own.”

Harwood also offered updates on guidelines for recommended quarantine and isolation. On Jan. 4, the recommended isolation period for infected individuals was shortened to five days if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving followed by five days of wearing a mask when others are around. The recommended quarantine period for susceptible individuals was shortened to five days followed by strict mask use for an additional five days.

He also updated the board on the “Test to Stay and Learn” program — which is apart of the JCHDE’s new health guidelines — stating that student and staff participants may continue to attend school during the five day recommended quarantine. Testing will occur during the first five days and strict mask use is required for all 10 days. Additionally, Harwood outlined how the board would approach modifying the Staff COVID-19 Leave policy.

The board also recognized the Silver Stars as back-to-back 5A state champions as well as Prairie Ridge Elementary’s Denise Reihnol and Sarah Lennon along with Monticello Trails’ Callie Guth and Shawnda Toland as part of the “staff recognition” portion of the meeting.

The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is set for Monday, Feb. 7.

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