Fountain Hills Unified School District’s Safe Return to School Plan continues to be a work in progress, with Superintendent Kelly Glass receiving input from School Board members, as well as the community, concerning its evolution.
Glass hosted a discussion for the measure at the Sept. 8 School Board meeting, which will potentially be discussed again following adjustments.
The current version of the Safe Return to School Plan is available to read at fountainhillsschools.org by highlighting the “Resources” tab and selecting “2021-2022 Return to School Plan.” The plan will be updated once changes are made.
The Return to School Plan received quite a bit of criticism during the open call to the public at the Sept. 8 meeting, a continuation of concerns voiced at previous meetings.
The theme of the comments was, once again, concerns about loss of education and athletics due to quarantine in the event of COVID-19 exposure. Several expressed a desire to see guidelines that would no longer require students who are not exhibiting symptoms to stay home, even if they were in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID.
Several parents asked the district to trust parents to monitor the health of their own children, while it was noted that a student attending school while waiting for the eventual positive results of a COVID test led to many students having to recently be quarantined. It was also noted that, while on campus, FHUSD is responsible for the health of its students and staff.
As a reminder, the Safe Return to School Plan is not policy, and therefore does not need a vote from the School Board for approval. The Sept. 8 presentation was to allow for additional input.
Glass began her presentation by noting that, in the past couple of weeks, she has reached out to peer districts concerning their own COVID-19 measures and quarantine practices, saying that the results were a mixed bag of district’s doing their best to adhere to requirements coming from the governor, CDC, Maricopa County Department of Public Health Administration (MCDPHA) and existing district policies. She said that no two districts seem to be doing the same thing and many districts that had been practicing more lax measures were reversing course after having entire classes or schools quarantine for an extended period.
For those who questioned FHUSD’s methods, Glass offered a refresher on CDC guidelines, as well as input she received from Rebecca Sunenshine, MD, the Disease Control Division Medical Director with Maricopa County.
Glass reminded attendees that quarantine and closure measures are decided at the county level. The district is required to report any COVID-19 exposure/cases pertaining to students and staff, with Maricopa County determining how quarantining should take place.
“ADHS and MCDPH follow CDC guidelines and define a contact of a COVID-19 case as being ‘within six feet of a person with COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period or had physical contact with a person with COVID-19,” Sunenshine’s email explained. “Those individuals are required to quarantine away from others, including extracurricular activities, for 10 full days (or seven full days, as long as a COVID-19 test performed on day six or seven is negative and the contact has no symptoms).”
Sunenshine went on to say that anyone who has been fully vaccinated does not need to quarantine, even if identified as a close contact of a COVID-19 case per CDC, ADHS and MCDPH.
Glass went highlighted CDC guidelines on contact tracing, as well as what constitutes “close contact” under Arizona Administrative Code, Title 9, Chapter 6 (R9-6-361).
Quarantine guidelines were also covered, which include:
*Implement quarantine procedures for students who present with COVID-like illness or are in close contact.
*Guidance indicates that quarantine is required unless a student has proof of vaccination or has proof of having COVID-19 in the last 90 days.
*Students are wearing a well-fitting mask consistently and correctly, quarantine may be reduced or eliminated.
Quarantine exceptions include:
*Students who have had COVID-19 in the last 90 days.
*Students who are properly wearing masks and were exposed to a person positive for COVID-19.
*CDC allows for a shortened quarantine (not 14 days) when student obtains a negative COVID test after day five (on day six) – can return on day eight.
Glass ended her presentation offering two options for finalizing the Safe Return to School Plan.
The first is to quarantine according to the law, CDC and MCPHD. To better address education concerns while in quarantine, this option suggests teachers upload a recorded video of their daily instructional lesson or provide access to instructional videos through Schools PLP, the service FHUSD uses for off-site learning. This option also notes teachers should have office hours to check in with the parents/students as needed.
The second option would be to quarantine only students who present with symptoms, have a positive COVID test or have family members that have a positive COVID test.
Additional measures with this method include health checks for all students daily, and that athletes must follow the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s guidelines for quarantine and return to play with no exceptions if they test positive for COVID.
This option also notes the district would continue to collect close contacts, submit them to the authorities and inform parents that their child was in close contact with someone with COVID and that they should monitor their symptoms.
Board member Dr. Wendy Barnard argued that there has to be a middle ground, saying she would also like to see FHUSD’s measures be as clear and noninvasive as possible. The issue is that some parents are demanding more lax measures, others are requesting more strict measures, and then there are all of the guidelines that must be adhered to either way.
Barnard said there needs to be a clear understanding that, if things continue to get worse and local kids continue to have to quarantine, there’s a very real possibility that a school or the entire district may be forced to quarantine. She said that while the parents speaking at the meeting wanted the district to “trust parents to monitor their own child’s health,” the problem is that it only takes one student being sent to school sick to create an issue, something that’s already happened multiple times this school year.
Superintendent Glass said that she would take what she heard from the meeting and continue to hammer out the details of the Safe Return to School Plan.