December 21, 2021
School districts across the country face a serious dilemma as the situation surrounding the pandemic continuously changes. As you are likely aware, the PA Supreme Court recently ruled that the mask mandate in schools was not constitutional and has returned the decision of whether or not to mask to local school boards. This decision comes as new variants of the virus emerge and the number of challenges facing schools continues to grow more complex. School districts now face the challenge of balancing public health and safety concerns against significant gaps in learning and mental health challenges that are emerging from this crisis. With the mask mandate lifted and no change to the rules that determine “close contact exposures” and quarantines, these numbers will increase significantly, making that balancing effort even more complex and extremely difficult. We need to find a logical and appropriate response to mitigate the spread of the disease while responsibly reducing the number of days students spend away from school and the activities that make them learn and grow.
With this safe but sensible effort in mind, we have worked with the Department of Health (DOH) to develop a new approach to the quarantine procedures regarding asymptomatic students and staff that would be acceptable under their requirements. After careful consideration of this option, the Indiana Area School District Board of Directors has made a decision to modify the quarantine procedures we will follow effective January 3, 2021.
There will be no change to how we approach symptomatic students or non-school-related exposures (those that happen at home or in the community outside of school). It is important to remind our families that state law requires in Title 28 Pa. Code Chapter 27 (relating to communicable and non-communicable diseases), that schools must:
- Report positive cases of COVID-19 to DOH for case investigation, contact tracing, and issuance of quarantine and/or isolation orders; and
- Exclude school children and staff from having contact with other school children or staff showing symptoms of a communicable disease.
School officials have the authority to restrict people who are at risk of spreading COVID-19 from entering the school building. Schools do not need, and should not require, a quarantine order to take this action to protect the health and safety of students and staff.
The change in our quarantine procedures will center on how we manage asymptomatic students who are exposed at school or on the bus. As you know, we have written to you many times expressing our concerns over the number of quarantines facing our families and our community. This has been a constant conversation and one that has resulted in frustration from many. Quarantining students at home who have been exposed to COVID-19 in a school environment has the unintended consequence of reducing in-school learning and can be an added strain on parents, schools, and local health departments. While vaccination and mask usage are critical components to ensuring a safe school environment, the District has developed an in-school alternative to quarantining asymptomatic students and school staff who have been exposed to COVID-19 in a school environment to support in-school learning and reduce the strain on the aforementioned groups.
The following changes to the quarantine process only apply to in-school exposures. Family/community exposures will continue to be quarantined as we have done the past two years.
Under the revised plans, direct school-related contacts, regardless of vaccination or masking status, asymptomatic students/staff may choose to remain in the classroom environment if they do the following:
- Wear a mask for 14 days after their last date of exposure.
- Students and staff will be offered the opportunity to take a COVID test through the District’s in-house testing program at no charge to the families or staff members. Parent consent is required prior to any student testing.
- Self-monitor or parent-monitor for symptoms of COVID-19.
- Isolate and get tested if they start to experience symptoms associated with COVID-19 regardless of severity.
If unable to wear a mask due to a medical exemption, the student may remain in the classroom environment if they do the following:
- Test on initial notification of exposure to COVID-19, and then again on days 5-7.
- Isolate and get tested if the student starts to experience symptoms associated with COVID-19 regardless of severity.
If a student does not have a current medical exemption signed by a licensed health provider, they will be required to wear a mask for 14 days.
Symptomatic students/staff will be required to quarantine to mitigate further exposure and spread of illness.
Students/staff who choose not to comply with the options listed above will be quarantined for 14 days. No student will be tested on-site without parent consent (written/electronic consents only - no verbal consents accepted).
Asymptomatic contacts may continue to participate in extracurricular activities if they do the following:
- Wear a mask when able. (Transportation, locker rooms, sidelines, and anytime the mask will not interfere with breathing, the activity, or create a safety hazard.)
- Test on initial notification of exposure to COVID-19.
- Test again on days 5-7. If negative, no further testing or mask is required on day 8.
In closing, I know these procedures will not end the pandemic, nor will they keep every child in school. They do, however, seek to achieve that logical and sensible balance of supporting our students’ health, safety, social-emotional, and academic needs. These are difficult times. There are many of us who are divided on how our leaders should handle the pandemic and many of the challenges we face on a daily basis. I applaud the Board of Directors for their leadership during this unprecedented time. They always lead with what is best for our students as their guiding principle and are doing their best to navigate these turbulent waters while trying to meet the various needs and perspectives of our community. I am hopeful you can all find time as a family to reconnect, relax, and recharge over the holiday break. We all need it right now. Rest assured that everyone is doing their absolute best to get through this all, and we will - together. Your grace, compassion, and consideration are needed more than ever as we may be faced with even greater challenges in the near future. For more information, visit our website to review our Health and Safety Plan.
Mr. Michael J. Vuckovich
Superintendent of Schools