JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL)- As COVID numbers are increasing across the region again, students are heading back to class without as many protocols like in the past two years.
“If it’s COVID, or if its influenza or if it’s strep throat or whatever your child might have this school year, if your child is sick, please keep them at home until they’re well and at least fever free for 24 hours before they return,” said Kingsport City Schools-Nursing Supervisor, Vicki Johnston. “Monitor them for 24 hours to see if it’s nothing or if it’s going to develop into other symptoms.”
This year, students won’t be required to wear masks, social distance or even stay out a certain amount of time if they test positive. Districts also won’t be contact tracing or keeping up with COVID dashboards, as of early August.
“They are able to return once they are fever free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication, and they can return once their symptoms have improved as well. They do not have to stay out for the five days that are recommended by CDC,” said Kelly Wagner, Washington Co. Schools Director of Coordinated School Health. “If someone would like to stay out those five days, they are absolutely welcome to do so and we will excuse that with a parent’s note or doctor’s note.”
News Channel 11 asked whether or not students would have to wear a mask when they return, no matter the time frame.
“No, they will not,” Wagner said.
KCS will not be requiring masks either.
“If a child goes to the school clinic and they are sick, we will put a mask on them until we get them at home, just for their safety and everyone else’s protection as well,” said Johnston. “In terms of monitoring if those children are returning with masks or not, we will not be doing that this school year. We just advise the parents what the guideline recommends.”
Health leaders say COVID is here to stay, so they plan to treat it like other communicable diseases.
“Prior to COVID, you know, flu, strep, ear infections – all of that was really led by ‘Is the child symptomatic?’ said Jennifer Norton, the Coordinated Health and School Nursing Supervisor for Johnson City Schools. “Working with those families, I cannot stress enough the importance of them reaching out to their family physician as being the best resource for those families because we will always honor those physician recommendations.”
As numbers change across the region, school plans might shift as well. COVID sometimes presents a ‘case-by-case basis’ and questions should go to your child’s specific school or district.
“The school staff can code them for COVID. That way, if they complete their assignments while they’re out, they will get credit for attendance,” Johnston said of the KCS policy. “Attendance will not be an issue as long as parents call and report that to the school and make sure that their child does the work that they’ve missed while they were out.”
The three districts stressed that keeping children home when they are sick is the best way to prevent the spread of any illness. But, those districts said they will work with those who are out.
“We do have five excused days that parents are allowed every year. They also get the three ‘parent-choice’ days. So, a student comes in with eight excused days off the bat so we can continue to support those students if they are feeling ill for any reason,” Norton said of the JCS policy. “Those numbers can grow if we have a physician’s note recommending that they need to be out additional days.”
Washington County, Kingsport and Johnson City schools all offer free testing for students and staff. They will also be offering flu vaccine clinics this fall.
Johnson County Schools released their COVID protocol ahead of the start of school on Aug. 8.
Johnson County students who are sent home with a fever will have two excused absences granted by their school nurse. After the two days, they are required to be tested for COVID by the school nurse or doctor. The school nurse must have proof of the positive test if it is administered outside of school.
If the test is positive, the student will have three additional excused absences for a total of five. If the test is negative, the child must go back to school unless they have a doctor’s excuse stating otherwise. Without a doctor’s note, additional days will be considered “unexcused.”
When a child shows symptoms at home, parents/guardians should notify the school but must provide proof of a positive test. Five excused absences will begin the day the test is administered. If the child is not tested, absences will not be excused.
The district will not place students on distance learning for COVID, contract trace or require exposed students to quarantine.
Johnson County School employees have to use sick leave for being out due to COVID. They must also have proof of a positive test to avoid the requirement of a doctor’s note for four or more consecutive absences.