By Staff Reports
Some Patrick County parents created an online petition aimed at reducing the amount of time students and staff must spend in quarantine after either testing positive for COVID-19 or being in close contact with someone who tested positive.
Stephen Jackson, petition creator, said he started the signature drive to raise awareness that the quarantine policies followed by the Patrick County School division are not supported by relevant data.
Additionally, “I think the unintended consequences that we are seeing now from the quarantine polices far outweigh the potential benefit of quarantining for the students,” he said.
The petition states, in part, “we believe that the unintended consequences of these policies for the students and staff far outweigh the potential benefits. Students are missing school at an alarming rate; some students are out for 3 days, some 7, some even 14 days.”
It added that “some students have had this forced quarantine happen to them multiple times, resulting in upwards of 21 days of school missed.”
Jackson said “the state controls so much of what school boards can do. For me, that’s not local government at all. I wanted to give parents the opportunity to express more of their concerns and frustrations and make sure the decisions being made are really relevant.”
Brandon Simmons, chairman of the school board, said all public comments are taken into consideration, “but, we can’t do but so much because legally our hands are tied. Every school system around us is doing the same stuff, we’re not the only ones.”
The local division is more lenient than many other divisions regarding quarantines, Simmons said.
“We do offer some options that others don’t, like early turn with negative test results and things like that. A lot of the ones around us don’t do that,” he said.
Simmons said if the schools removed or shortened the quarantine period, the division would be at risk of being sued, losing funding, and incur the wrath of state officials.
“It’s not necessarily the governor you have to worry about, it’s the Virginia Secretary of Health,” he said.
Simmons said the issue people need to consider is what would happen if the board decided to fight the quarantine mandate.
“Where do we get the money to spend hundreds of thousands, if not millions before it’s over, to fight this legally. We don’t have any money in the county. The community says, “We support you, and that’s wonderful, but what kind of support are we going to have” in the event of a legal battle, he asked, adding the division likely would “end up losing anyway.”
Lacey Harbour, who helped craft the petition, said it is personal for her because her son has been quarantined twice this school year – for 14 days each time, and “he never contracted COVID either time he was quarantined.”
Harbour said the school system is not showing parents any data to prove that the quarantine period is necessary.
“They’re doing it because they’re saying they have to, based on the state’s recommendations,” she said, adding the division and the CDC are not tracking COVID-19 data or cases.
She added the decision to quarantine also is at the discretion of each school’s administrator, depending on whether the student or staff member was within six feet, or in close contact, with the positive individual for more the recommended time.
“So, there’s a lot of error in the policy itself because it’s just basic judgement from a human and humans make errors all the time,” she said.
Harbour said a friend who works as a staff member was at a slight risk of having her pay docked due to the quarantine policy.
“Teachers and staff members who are not vaccinated are required to quarantine when they’re exposed. Teachers who are vaccinated are not required to quarantine, even though vaccinated individuals can still contract and spread COVID,” she said.
Harbour said she feels there may be some discrimination, particularly since staff must use earned sick days and personal leave to complete the required quarantine periods.
“When their personal leave is exhausted, their pay is docked,” she said.
Recently, the school board voted to allow staff to donate up to five personal days per calendar year to those who must quarantine but lack enough Paid Time Off (PTO).
While he would like to be optimistic about the petition, Jackson said he expected as much. He also does not believe the petition will have an impact or influence the board to adopt a different stance on quarantine periods.
“I don’t think that they’ll amend the quarantine guidelines because they’ve said that their hands are tied by the state and they have to follow the state guidelines and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommendations and all that,” he said.
Jackson emphasized the petition does not demonstrate that he and other signers are against the Patrick County School Board.
“We really see ourselves with the school board, and we really see this as an opportune time to work together to create the best educational environment for Patrick County students as possible. We really view ourselves as agents of change to really bring back some common sense to decision-making” regarding quarantines, he said.
The petition was published in early November on change.org. It can be viewed by going to www.change.org and searching for “Drop Forced Quarantines For Students.”