CHARLESTON, Va. (WSAZ) – The West Virginia Department of Education has issued new guidelines limiting when a school must enter a generalized contact tracing quarantine.
School leaders said these revised rules, which were created in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR), will help keep children in class for in-person learning instead of closing buildings. whole due to an outbreak of COVID-19.
The state has not issued a mandate requiring schools to universally demand masks, instead continuing to allow local oversight by school boards and local health officials.
The updated rules no longer require a school to quarantine students or staff if a universal mask policy is in place. Contact tracing would only be necessary if a person was exposed in the cafeteria or other extracurricular activity where people are not wearing masks. The state recommends that schools limit potential exposure by having students eat in a group of friends or in their classroom.
Schools that do not have a universal mask policy will still need to quarantine students and staff who are not fully immunized. However, schools should now only quarantine people who were within 6 feet of an infected person in a classroom, on a bus or in the cafeteria – instead of putting an entire classroom in. quarantine under current rules.
The definitions of an outbreak in schools have also been changed to keep buildings open if there are a manageable number of cases. A school outbreak will only be declared if more than three cases, or 10%, of students or staff in a specific group test positive for COVID-19. Schools can now only be closed if so many teachers are sick that it becomes dangerous to organize in-person lessons or if double the normal number of pupils is absent.
“We hope this will keep more of our schools open, keep more of our students in a consistent routine, and have a habit of going back to school, while protecting them as they still have the mask on and a lot of them have. the ability to be vaccinated, ”said West Virginia Assistant Superintendent Michele Blatt.
Blatt said the number of counties with mask mandates increased from 16 at the start of the school year to 29 as of Wednesday morning. Thirteen more counties require masks based on the county color on the DHHR COVID-19 infection map.
At Wednesday’s board meeting, board chairman Miller Hall asked Blatt to contact the 13 school systems that sometimes require masks, as well as the other school that does not. Blatt said the goal is to figure out what their case numbers look like, their reasons for not needing masks, and to see what needs to be done to get everyone to move forward wearing masks.
“We’re going to look at that, and the decision will be made on that data,” Hall said after ending the discussion about issuing a statewide mask warrant on Wednesday. He said an emergency meeting could be called in the near future to issue more rules if the latest guidelines do not reduce outbreaks and school closings.
“We’ll do what we have to do, but at the same time, you also have to be careful what you do,” Hall continued. “I hate to use the expression walk on toes. Sometimes it is enough to follow the example instead of taking the lead. So get it ASAP. It won’t be in a month, it won’t be in two weeks, get it ASAP.
At the local level, Blatt said county school boards, county boards and health departments can issue mask warrants in schools. The West Virginia Board of Education has the power to issue a mask warrant that would override any local decision, Blatt said. Only the legislature can require vaccinations for students to attend public school.
“I just think we’re trying to find the safest way to keep as many students as possible in school,” Blatt said. “We learned so much last year during the pandemic about the importance of school not just academically, but their social and emotional health, their well-being and what we can do to alleviate some of these problems that arise in school. If it’s as easy as putting on a mask or getting more people vaccinated, then we think it’s something easy to do so that our students can better receive their education in person. “
The board also approved two programs Wednesday that seek to help fill vacant teacher and substitute positions across the state. Several schools have already closed this year because they do not have the necessary staff to operate the building safely.
The programs will make it easier for bachelor’s degree holders to obtain their teaching certificate, said executive director of the Office of Educator Development and Support, Dr. Carla Warren. The Education Department will begin offering free online courses and practice tests for people to use before attempting to obtain their teaching certificate and subject-specific tests.
West Virginia colleges will also receive tools to help students achieve certification through these programs after graduation. Another new policy will allow outside private companies to get people certified to teach in the state and help them find jobs.
Warren said the program will target people who are already working as long-term surrogates but have not completed their clinical experiences. While this is faster than getting another four-year degree, she said it would take between one and six months for these people to teach in classrooms.
“I think at this point and at that point we need to start recruiting from our high schools,” Warren said. “We need to elevate the teaching profession and bring it back to its rightful place in our society. That an educator is a valuable person who has a huge impact on children. We want to create innovative, creative and out of the box ways to bring more teachers into the profession. “
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