A new state directed health measure that went into effect Tuesday allows teachers and other school personnel to continue working if they’ve been in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 as long as they don't develop symptoms.
The change — which neither state education or union officials thought would take effect until later in the month — says teachers, para-educators and other non-certificated staff may continue to teach rather than self-quarantine if they wear face coverings for 14 days, practice social distancing, self-monitor twice daily for fever and other symptoms for 14 days and don’t develop symptoms.
The measure doesn’t define teachers and other school personnel as essential workers, but the language is similar to advisory guidance last month from the Department of Homeland Security that declared teachers as “critical infrastructure workers.”
Nebraska Department of Education spokesman David Jespersen said the measure is designed to give schools and local health departments more flexibility in deciding who should be quarantined. It would not prohibit teachers who wanted to quarantine from doing so, he said.
There’s been anecdotal evidence, he said, that some schools are having to quarantine a large number of teachers who never get sick.
“We’re talking about people right on that fringe,” he said, people whose contact was only for a short time and who are not exhibiting any symptoms.
But teacher groups are not happy.
Maddie Fennell, executive director of the Nebraska State Education Association, said the measure was issued in a vacuum, which has created chaos and puts educators at risk. NSEA officials had been talking to state officials and offered guidance, then found out it had already been published.
“What it says to teachers is teach until you drop,” she said. “This is a major change to quarantine protocol. This is going to put children, teachers and families at risk.”
State education officials are still working on guidance for schools, and NSEA plans to produce its own guidance for teachers.
Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel said the district does not plan to make any changes to its quarantine and self-isolating protocols because they appear to be working.
“Through the contact-tracing process, we have not seen any spread of COVID-19 within our school buildings, and we believe that is due to our safety practices and everyone doing a great job of following those protocols,” he said.
If LPS officials need to rethink it down the road, he said, they will.
Part of the motivation for the change, Joel said, is that districts around the country are struggling to find substitutes to fill in for teachers who must quarantine, a problem complicated by the fact that many substitutes are retired teachers whose age puts them at higher risk.
Rita Bennett, president of the Lincoln Education Association, said some substitutes are also leery of having to teach both remote and in-person learners at the same time, even though they’ve had some training.
Bennett said getting substitutes has been an issue, with teachers having to cover for those gone, a situation that makes finding planning time to better manage both in-person and remote learners even more difficult.
Joel said LPS is doing what it can to address the substitute situation. That includes a new incentive for substitutes: those who substitute at least 15 days during the month will get a $150 bonus. Long-term subs already get additional compensation because of the extra work involved, according to an email sent to substitutes Thursday.
The new state directed health measure says teachers and other school personnel may continue working if they’ve had close contact with a person who tested positive, has a test pending and is symptomatic or has had close contact with someone with a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, a sudden onset of a cough, shortness of breath or loss of taste and smell.
The measure says school should also perform and document temperatures of those personnel daily for local health departments.
Fennell said many districts do not require masks and that social distancing is nearly impossible in larger districts.
LPS requires both students and staff to wear masks, sanitize surfaces and hands often, self-monitor for symptoms daily and social distance when possible.
The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department defines high-risk close contacts as being within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes and not wearing masks.
The state’s directed health measure defines close contact as being within 6 feet of someone for at least 10 minutes.
Photos: First day of school 2020
Photos: First day of school for Lincoln-area students
Harlow's first day of preschool
Not the way they imagined walking to school
Jaxson's first day of middle school
Back to Back
5th 3rd and 1st grade
Kaleecia 1st grade at Hartley and Malaunie 4th grade at Hartley
First day of kindergarten
First Day 3
First day 4
4th grade and 2nd grade
4th grader at Randolph
First Day 11
First Day 9
First Day 5
First day 6
First day 7
First Day 3
First Day 4
First Day 2
Elle’s First Day of 2nd.
Tony 5th grade at Arnold
Stephen Pleasant age 5 first day of kindergarten
Sisters Cora (5th) and Maya (Kindergarten)
Senior year and 4th grade
Ramsey’s first day of kindergarten
Paisley's first day of first grade
Paige Peters first day of first grade at Kahoa elementary
Nevaeh. 4th grade
Mc 5th grade
Easton (right), and his best buddy, Austin, from across the street
Lijam’s first day of Kindergarten, Wysong Elementary
Kindergarten and fourth grade
Liam kindergarten Belmont
Kale 9th grade Lincoln Southwest and Emery 5th grade at Adams Elementary
Henry 4th grade
Ist day of 4th grade
Hattan’s 1st day of kindergarten
First day of Kindergarten
First day of middle school
First day of 4th grade for Miss Delia
First day of 5th grade
First Day 17
First Day 18
First Day 13
First Day 14
First Day 15
First Day 10
First day of kindergarten at Eastridge
Fifth grade at Arnold
2nd grade 2.jpg
1st grade & kindergarten.jpg
1st and 3rd Grade.jpeg
5th and 2nd grade
3rd & 5th
3rd and 1st grader.... Little brother is pretty excited about this
1st and 5th grades
Eden’s 1st Day of Kindergarten
Eli first grade
Deacon and Aubri 2nd and 3rd
Demetri and amahni
Dylan 2nd grade Roper Elementary
Alice started second grade
Brysens first day of 1st grade
6th grade and 4th grade
Alexis first day of Kindergarten
3rd grade at Kloefkorn - Graham
First day 3.jpg
Blake 5th grade.jpg
Arya and adalynn first day of second grade
5th grade, Belmont
6th grade Mickle
Alexander 1st day Kindergarten Belmont
2nd grade at Ruth Hill Elementary
Aubrey’s first day of kindergarten
Preston is starting 3rd grade
Savannahs 1st day of 4th grade
Senior in mask
Owen's first day of middle school at Lux
Payton 6th grade at Dawes
12th grade, 6th grade, 5th grade, 3rd grade and kindergarten
Kole 3rd grade
First day of 4th grade and first day of kindergarten
First day of 5th grade
First day of 6th grade at Goodrich Bailee and her puppy King
First day 9
First day 10
First day 11
First day 6
First day 7
First day 8.
First day 4
First day 5
Ellie, 1st grade at Kooser Elementary
Estella. First grade. Everett
Dawes Middle School and north wood elementary
Aydin 6th grade at Culler and Kai 4th grade at Meadow Lane
Besties starting middle school
Alxee (3rd grade) Avery (1st grade)
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