Chatham County Schools returned to class for the fall semester of the 2021-22 school year last week. While this semester marks the first since before the pandemic that students will attend classes every day in-person, COVID-19 still dominates much of school discussions and planning.
Here’s what we know about the district’s COVID-19 protocol:
Universal indoor masking “with fidelity” (the proper type of mask, worn over mouth and nose) is required at all the district’s campuses, regardless of vaccination status. As of now, masks are optional outdoors. Additionally, the district is requiring 3 feet of social distance.
From Aug. 23 to Aug. 27, there were 56 positive COVID-19 cases among CCS campuses (.53% of the district population). None were identified as a cluster, which is defined as five or more cases that are related, not just five or more cases in the same building.
As of Wednesday morning, there were 21 more active COVID-19 cases in the district, and one cluster at Chatham Central High School, or five cases.
The district will update its weekly case reports, including any clusters, on its website daily, and post finalized and archived reports by the end of the business day every Friday. Last year, the district reported minimal clusters, suggesting that cases present in school buildings were the result of community spread and not school spread. Health experts have long cited masking as an important mitigation strategy in preventing such school spread.
CCS’s reports will be posted at https://www.chatham.k12.nc.us/Page/23355.
Last year, students ate lunch in their classrooms to maintain social distance, and were encouraged to eat in a 15-minute period. Students removed masks to eat, and were only allowed to socialize once their masks were back on. This year it is up to the individual discretion of a school’s principal whether students eat in the cafeteria, classrooms or outside.
Students have a 30-minute lunch period, but are strongly encouraged to eat in 15 minutes or less. If they are eating inside, closer than 6-feet apart, there is no talking until masks are back on.
Additionally, breakfast and lunch are available at no cost to CCS students for the 2021-22 school year, thanks to a federal extension.
All schools require passengers and staff to wear a mask on buses and other group school transportation. Distancing is not required under new state guidance.
Short answer: no. Last semester, district officials suggested that CCS might off-ramp from in-person classes in the event that there were too many staff members sick with COVID-19 or quarantined to teach and carry out school functions.
Under the state’s most updated guidance, local boards of education have the authority to make day-to-day decisions “concerning whether shifting individual schools or individual classrooms that are providing in-person instruction to remote instruction is necessary due to COVID-19 exposures that result in insufficient school personnel or required student quarantines.” Local school boards must report any shifts by a school or classroom from in-person to remote instruction to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction within 72 hours of the shift.
As of now, students cannot enroll for the district’s virtual academy until the spring semester, as the academy requires a semester-long commitment.
Not currently, but the board voted at its Aug. 3 meeting — along with requiring masking — to continue working with the CCPHD to publicize and offer vaccination clinics for any unvaccinated people.
The district is finalizing details, but plans to offer vaccination clinics at all of its high schools next week. Plans to offer testing on-site are also underway.
As of March 8, three weeks after teachers were eligible to be vaccinated, 550 of the district’s approximately 2,000 staff members had been vaccinated. There is no further update available, as the district is not currently collecting staff vaccination data.
Under new state guidance, schools no longer need to do symptom screenings for students and staff at the beginning of a school day. Disinfecting and cleaning processes — formed in conjunction with Chatham County Public Health Department and the district’s supplier of custodial supplies — include daily cleaning of touch surfaces, cleaning of buses after morning and afternoon routes and frequent cleaning of main offices, reception areas and restrooms in schools.
Under state guidelines, if a student tests positive for COVID-19 but was masked, CCS will not enforce a two-week quarantine period for students potentially exposed to that student — so long as those students were also masked. If a student is determined to be a close contact, the quarantine period is ten days. Vaccinated teachers don’t have to quarantine.
The district defines a close contact as someone “within 3 to 6 feet of an infected person and incorrect mask use.”
District officials have previously cited the state’s K-12 StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Toolkit as its primary guidance. Officials also consider recommendations from the CDC, Chatham County Public Health Department and Duke University’s ABC Science Collaborative in making decisions. So far, policies have followed such recommendations.
For more information, view the district’s coronavirus webpage.
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