CALHOUN The Calhoun City Schools system notified teachers this week that they are now considered essential workers and therefore exempt from mandatory quarantine rules following a possible exposure to COVID-19.

Superintendent Michele Taylor said the move came after teachers voiced concerns that they may have to use their personal sick leave if forced to quarantine multiple times while never showing symptoms.

“I have not heard a single complaint, only positive feedback from our teachers,” Taylor said.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act requires employers to provide their employees with 80 hours of paid sick leave and expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.

After those hours have been exhausted, any additional time off would have to be taken using personal sick days — something teachers were concerned about due to the possibility of multiple quarantines for low-risk, limited exposures.

The school system’s policy shift allows teachers who have been identified as having close contact with a positive case, but who remain asymptomatic, to choose if they quarantine or remain at school. Anyone who tests positive must still quarantine for 10 days.

“If a staff member identified as a ‘close contact’ chooses to return to work, they must continue to wear a mask, and there will be two temperature checks daily ... by the school nurse,” Taylor said in the announcement to teachers.

If symptoms begin, the staff member is required to notify their immediate supervisor and leave the building as soon as possible, she said.

The superintendent also noted that while teachers can return to school and participate in afterschool responsibilities, they are still required to quarantine for all nonessential activities, such as shopping or attending events.

School nutrition and custodial staff were already considered essential workers, but a federal executive order issued on Aug. 18 deemed all school employees should fall into that category.

As of Thursday, Gov. Brian Kemp had not included the updated recommendations in his own executive orders.

Status reports

The Rome News-Tribune reported last week that Floyd County Schools had adopted the approach, classifying its teachers as essential workers. But it reversed course after a lawyer for Kemp wrote an email saying that teachers remain subject to quarantine orders until Kemp or health officials decide whether to incorporate the federal guidance.

Amy Parker, communications and community relations director for Gordon County Schools, said via email Thursday morning that Superintendent Kimberly Fraker has not had any conversations with board of education members on the topic.

Both the Cordon and Calhoun school systems provide updated reports each Friday afternoon related to confirmed cases of COVID-19 in schools.

As of Aug. 21, five Calhoun High School students and one Calhoun Primary School student had tested positive.

The report says four of the six students were not on campus last week. Among staff members, two positive cases were recorded at Calhoun High, while another was recorded at Calhoun Elementary School. Of those three, two of the staff members had not been on campus since Aug. 11 but recently returned after following required quarantine rules.

Gordon County Schools’ Aug. 21 update showed two active cases among students and five active cases among employees.

The student cases included one each at Ashworth Middle School and Gordon Central High School. The employee cases included three at Gordon Central and one each at Sonoraville Elementary and Tolbert Elementary.

Gordon Central has been closed since Aug. 19 due to a lack of teachers, after possible exposures resulted in a high number of quarantining among staff members. No other local schools have taken such action. The school is scheduled to reopen on Wednesday, Sept. 2.

Taylor said in her announcement to teachers that the system has an exceptional contact tracing team in place and that all other safe practices remain in place.

“Our efforts to educate all of our students, staff and parents on preventative measures, as well as requiring students/staff to quarantine when needed will hopefully slow the spread of the virus throughout our community,” she said. “Thank you for doing your part by following the 3 W’s ... wear a mask, wash your hands and watch your distance.”

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