After a heated five-hour discussion between the Council Rock school board and superintendent Robert Fraser, it was decided that the district will follow strict CDC guidance regarding the quarantine of students and staff exposed to COVID-19. That is, until at least Oct. 22.
Throughout the lengthy Sept. 10 meeting, Fraser advocated for CDC recommendations, which state that any individual exposed to COVID-19 should self-quarantine for 14 days, whether they’re showing symptoms or not. Therefore, if a student or staff member is in close contact with someone who’s COVID-positive once hybrid classes begin Sept. 29, they would need to revert back to online learning/teaching for two weeks directly following the exposure. They can return with medical clearance by the local health department.
The other option on the table was “modified quarantine,” the recommendation of Bucks County Health Director Dr. David Damsker. If a student or staff member knows they had a direct exposure to COVID-19 (was within 6 feet of an infected person for more than 15 minutes) and is asymptomatic (no symptoms), they can continue going to school and riding the bus as long as they practice hygiene, social distancing and mask-wearing. Eating lunch and other activities that require mask removal would be done away from others.
“As a parent, I know that I certainly wouldn’t want my child seated in the same seat [on the bus] directly beside that student who has been directly exposed to COVID-19,” said Fraser.
It was voted 6-2, with one abstention, that Council Rock will follow CDC guidelines until the next board meeting on Oct. 22. During that time, Fraser and the administration can also address issues on a case-by-case basis when extenuating circumstances present themselves. The plan will be revisited on a monthly basis at each board meeting as more knowledge and experience is obtained.
Board member Denise Brooks supported Fraser in his push to implement CDC guidance, and voiced her mistrust of Damsker.
“He has not made an impression on me that earns my trust. He minimized the virus and compared it to the flu,” Brooks said. “I think the best, most cautious approach is to follow the most conservative guidelines here, and that to me is ensuring that we’re doing the best. I’d rather err on the side of caution. Fourteen days is actually a pretty short amount of time in my mind because that’s the difference of being safe and making sure we don’t have large community spread.”
Brooks added that modified quarantine is not being practiced anywhere else in the state, and no other Bucks County school districts are adopting it.
“Why do we have to be trailblazers on an idea that’s not even spreading? If this was such a tremendous idea, why is it not sweeping the entire state? We have no example of the success of modified quarantine in public schools,” she said.
Several parents echoed Brooks’ sentiment during the public comment portion of the meeting, describing Damsker’s “scheme” as “flying in the face” of national organizations like the CDC and WHO.
Board member Ed Salamon advocated for Damsker.
“His mindset is, we want to keep businesses open, do it safely and effectively. Otherwise, we could get into a ripple effect of closing places due to multiple cases popping up,” Salamon said.
He also advocated for student wellness. For his own children, Salamon said it’ll be like Christmas Day when they return to in-person classes, and pulling them back out for 14 days of virtual learning would “destroy” them.
However, all members were in agreement that the conversation took a confusing route, and a few key concerns were clarified. First, the board stressed that students and staff who are COVID-19-positive will not be permitted in school. The discussion was solely centered around those who were exposed to the virus and are showing no symptoms. Additionally, the school administration and Bucks County Department of Health will jointly decide whether or not an exposure happened.
When the board meets again in October, it’s possible Fraser’s proposed “amended modified quarantine” could be put into place. This model would allow exposed students to continue attending school (unless they receive a positive test result), but prohibit them from riding the bus and participating in sports and extracurricular activities. It would also require them to arrive at school and leave on a staggered schedule, and report directly to the nurse’s office for a symptom assessment. If they become sick during the day, they will immediately be sent home.
While Fraser prefers to have CDC guidance in place for as long as possible, the board granted this only temporarily. The amended modified quarantine serves as his compromise.
“Our goal is not just to open schools,” Fraser said. “Our goal is to keep schools open.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org