LEXINGTON -- The Lexington Local Schools board of education voted Wednesday to accept a new set of guidelines allowing students to continue attending in-person classes during a quarantine period if their exposure occurred in a low-risk classroom setting.
The new guidelines, from the Ohio Department of Health, are based on a recent study by the Ohio Schools COVID-19 Evaluation Team. The study found that children who were close contacts and appropriately masked had rates of COVID-19 that were similar to children with no known COVID-19 exposure in school.
Thus, a student or staff member who was exposed to a COVID-positive individual will still be allowed to attend in-person classes if all individuals were properly wearing masks and following other safety guidelines at the time of exposure.
This policy will only apply if the exposure occurred in a classroom environment or on a school bus transporting students to and from classes. A fact sheet from the Ohio Department of Health states that students should not attend in-person school if they are exposed to COVID-19 outside the classroom, including during sports or other extracurricular activities, regardless of masking.
If a student is exposed in the classroom, they will still be advised to quarantine regardless of whether or not masks were worn. This means that students will be advised to stay home while not attending classes and will not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities or sports.
“It does not, unfortunately, assist any of our kids in extracurriculars and it doesn't extend to other things. But it does keep more kids in the classroom. It will reduce the amount of kids we have out of the classroom, and it will be a positive,” Supt. Jeremy Secrist said. “I think it would be very beneficial to our students.”
Secrist said he had spoken with administrators and they were strongly in favor of the change.
Patrick Cannon, the president of the Lexington Teacher’s Union, also voiced his support.
“I think it’s a really good thing. It keeps kids in school,” Cannon said while seated in the audience.
The board voted 4-0 in favor accepting the new state guidelines, with board president Robert Whitney abstaining from the vote.
Whitney expressed frustration with the guidelines and said that students shouldn't be "punished" for exposure by being quarantined from athletics.
"I'm happy they're going back to school, but I'm not happy about this," he said.
District will continue with 14 day quarantine period
Secrist also stated that the district would not be shortening its quarantine period from 14 to 10 days, as some school districts in the area have already done.
The CDC still recommends a 14 day quarantine for exposed individuals, but came out with guidance in December that a 10-day quarantine is an “acceptable alternative” if an individual is not exhibiting symptoms.
“It is a mixed bag in the area as far as the schools that are doing that,” Secrist said.
Secrist noted that even school districts that are reducing the quarantine time to 10 days still require students to abstain from athletics and extracurricular activities for 14 days.
“The OHSAA has come out a second time and made their recommendation. Both (Richland and Crawford) county health commissioners made it clear that athletes are out for 14 days when they’re quarantined,” he said.
Multiple members of the school expressed opposition to keeping the quarantine period at 14 days.
Rob Schuster, who stated that he had recovered from COVID-19 and wore his mask below his chin for most of the meeting, said he thought a 10-day quarantine was sufficient for students.
Citing the CDC, he stated most people infected with COVID-19 exhibit symptoms in the first three to five days after exposure.
On a web page last updated Dec. 2, the CDC wrote that a person who has shown no symptoms and quarantines for 10 days after exposure carries a risk of "about 1 percent with an upper limit of about 10 percent" of transmitting the virus.
“So the hang up on 14 days is that there's a likelihood of plus or minus one percent of kids that through days 10 through 14 will become symptomatic?” Schuster said.
“These kids have families. They’re in classrooms with staff members,” Secrist responded.
The superintendent told board members that he’d spoken with multiple staff members who were scared to return to in-person classes on Jan. 19.
“I do feel that we have a responsibility to our staff that were afraid to come back. Up to this point, I have been able to tell them or any parent who asked me a question about it -- here are the own guidelines, here's how we follow them. We are keeping people safe as we possibly can keep them," Secrist said.
Board rejects proposed administrator contracts, opts for raises
The board chose not to approve the proposed set of two-year contracts with the administrative team, supervisors and non-union employees that did not have raises.
District treasurer Jason Whitesel said that the administrators had agreed to a "pay freeze" for the 2020-2021 school year.
Recent contracts approved by the board included a 2-percent pay increase for teachers in 2020-2021 school year and a 1-percent pay increase in the 2021-2022 school year. Support staff such as aides, bus drivers and cafeteria workers have a contract that includes a two percent pay raise during the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years.
Board members argued that administrators deserved the same raises that teachers received in their recent contract negotiations.
Board member Keith Stoner described the district's administrators as "crazy overworked and short-staffed people." Stoner proposed a different contract with a 2-percent pay increase for the 2020-2021 school year and a 1-percent increase during the 2021-2022 school year.
The measure passed unanimously.
Board approves temporary measure waiving bachelor's degree requirement for substitute teachers
The board also passed a resolution temporarily waiving the requirement that substitute teachers in the district have a bachelor’s degree.
The Ohio General Assembly passed House Bill 409 last month, which waives the post-secondary degree requirement for licensed substitute teachers for the 2020-2021 school year only.
Secrist said the Mid-Ohio Educational Service Center, which supplies substitute teachers to the district, has adopted a resolution to allow individuals with an associate’s degree or a degree equivalent to become licensed as a substitute teacher.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the lack of substitute teachers available state and nationwide. Staffing shortages caused multiple school closures across the county during the first half of the 2020-2021 school year.
Secrist said the change could widen the pool of available substitute teachers.
“Whether or not it will help us, I don’t know,” he said. “Any help we can get, we appreciate.”
Other board matters included voting for the office of the board president and vice president. Board president Whitney and vice president Stoner were unanimously re-elected.