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Are school staff 'essential workers?' Boonville school board to make determination

Chris Bowie
Boonville Daily News

At a special Boonville R-I School Board meeting Wednesday, the board considered two very important issues during the hour long session.

They have to determine if school staff are considered essential workers and decide on changes to quarantine procedures. 

The board tabled a decision as it seeks more information from the Cooper County Public Health Center and Cooper County Commission, Superintendent Sarah Marriott said.

If either do decide school employees can be classed as essential workers, this means those identified as a close contact related to COVID-19 exposure and their duties cannot be done remotely, still could work in school buildings. They would not be mandated the 14 day quarantine away from school buildings. Close contacts are those who were within six feet of a COVID-19 positive patient for at least 15 minutes. 

So an employee potentially exposed to COVID-19, still would be allowed to work in the school building in their current job. 

The board also tabled a decision on changes to student quarantine guidelines. 

Currently, if a student is identified as a close contact, they have to quarantine for 14 days, Marriott said. 

“What the board is looking at right now is trying to gather some more information,” she said, adding the health department offered an pilot program to student quarantines.

If a student is identified as a close contact, they were exposed at school and they and the COVID-19 positive student both were wearing masks at the time of the potential exposure, then the close contact student could return to school, rather than remaining in a two-week quarantine. This is only if that close contact student does not exhibit any COVID-19 symptoms. 

"However, if we have any students that returns positive that were identified as close contacts because of school exposure, than the trial would end," Marriott said.

The trial will be done in sixth through 12th grade, since those students are expectedt to wear a mask consistently.

The priority, however, is student education. 

The board will have to look at the number of students that have chosen in-person education and cannot continue to be educated if they end up in a two-week quarantine. 

“We have students that potentially are having to be quarantined two, three if not four times and we are in our eighth week of school," Marriott said. "We anticipate that’s going to continue to grow and become a issue so we are exploring options to see if there is another solution that we can identify that will allow students to safely remain in school."

Under the current plan, if a student is identified as close contact, they would have to quarantine for 14 days. That means the student would be out of school but are continuing to do work online. There is a potential learning loss because even though the students are required to submit work, they are away from their peers and not in front of a teacher from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. There also are mental health concerns for students who have to quarantine multiple times, Marriott said.

“The health department went out on a limb to do this because there is only a few other school districts — Newton and Benton County —  that are the only other areas doing some changes. So, this is pretty significant for the board to consider this,” Marriott said.

“There’s a lot more districts considering teachers to be considered as essential workers. That is a growing trend across the state.”

The Boonville R-I School District had 24 students and staff test positive for COVID-19 between Aug. 8 and Oct. 6. There are are two positive staff and students each as of Thursday afternoon. 

“If people are interested in substituting we are always looking for substitutes and that is a challenge for us when we have to send staff members home because they are on quarantine," Marriott said. "So, that is a concern because we are sending healthy people home and they are unable to work.

The district is trying to keep positions filled and COVID-19 is putting another burden on the district when compared to typical school years.

The board will decide the next steps Wednesday at 6 p.m. at the district office. Marriott said the two main issues were tabled until the next board meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 6 p.m.