The Bend-La Pine Schools Board voted Tuesday night to reduce the COVID quarantine period for students and staff from 10 days to 5 and, in the process, gave schools the option to let kids once again eat lunch spread out in the cafeteria.
The board voted 5-2 in favor of Superintendent Steve Cook’s proposal to remove “meals” from the district’s “Continuation of In-Person Instruction Plan.”
Under that plan, students this year were to eat lunch outside when weather permits and in their classrooms or other designated spaces during inclement weather.
Removing the rules about meals opens up classrooms during the lunch period and allows teachers to prep there as well as give students just returning from COVID quarantine a place to eat – away from the general population – during days 6-10.
Cook had said the district couldn’t move to the CDC-recommended shortened quarantine period until the lunch staffing and space issue was addressed.
“This is a plan that we’re suggesting is the right move forward because our people are telling us what we are doing is not sustainable,” Cook said during the special board meeting.
The board discussed the plan for more than an hour.
Board member Shimiko Montgomery was adamantly opposed to the plan saying now was not the time to implement the change.
Deschutes County reported more than 4,000 COVID cases last week – down from the record 4,500 reported two weeks ago.
Currently, about 1 in 12 residents has COVID, according to the Deschutes County Health Department’s COVID dashboard.
What’s more, cases in school-aged children have jumped higher than any other age group in the last month: 70% for kids 0-9 and 79% for those 10-19.
The district’s COVID dashboard page on Monday showed 493 student positive cases and 203 students in quarantine; 31 staff positive cases and one staff member quarantined.
“The protocols we have work,” Montgomery said. “Why aren’t we holding off two or three more weeks – after the peak – to reduce the amount of spread within our community?”
Cook said the reduced quarantine time is what’s recommended by the CDC and OHA and is what schools across the country are now adhering to.
And, he assured board members schools now would have the flexibility to do what’s best for their communities.
“This lunch plan is a local control decision,” Cook said. “We chose to do this, and it was our decision to implement this. And I don’t think we have regrets on that. But we’re in a place right now where we can’t implement more without some kind of plan or relief from that.”
Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, the district’s Health Consultants Team acknowledged some of its members were “apprehensive” about moving from 10 to 5-day isolation during the current COVID surge.
That team is made up of a mix of local health care officials, providers, and school nurses.
But the group reiterated that the shorter quarantine time would be OK if returning students and staff followed some strict rules:
- They are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication AND symptoms have improved,
- AND they wear a well-fitting mask KN95 or 3-ply medical grade face-covering around others in public for 5 additional days (day 6 through day 10) after the end of their 5-day isolation period. This includes during in-school instruction and school-related activities. If students are unable to wear a mask when around others, they should continue to isolate themselves for 10 days.
- Note: Share with families that KN95 or 3-ply medical grade face coverings are available to students at their school and that students may also wear their own KN95 or 3-ply medical grade face covering.
- AND, during times in the school day when students or staff members may typically remove masks indoors (such as during lunches, snacks, etc.), schools have a plan for those students/staff to adequately distance themselves from others and ensure they wear their masks when not actively participating in these activities (such as when they are not actively eating).
Note: Per the CDC, eating and drinking will only be allowed to take place when you are not in the presence of others.
- District isolation communication to students should continue to include Return to Play information for student-athletes, including the BLS COVID-19 Return to Play Form.
The consultants said families should know 10-days remains “the ‘gold standard’ but is no longer required, only recommended.'”
Cook said he expected some families to still adhere to the 10-day quarantine.
Montgomery and board member Amy Tatom were the two “no” votes.
Tatom was concerned about students who maybe lived with someone medically vulnerable who now would be exposed to more students returning after just five days of quarantine.
She also said most of the comments in emails she received recently were from community members opposed to the plan.
Cook said the decision doesn’t mean lunches now are back to pre-pandemic ways. Kids will be spread out and there will be seating charts to make it easier for contact tracing purposes.
And when the weather allows, he expects kids to continue eating outdoors when at all possible.
The Health Consultants Team said it believes schools should have ultimate decision-making authority on whether to eat indoors or outdoors moving forward rather than forcing staff to make the decision based on a certain temperature.