An update on current BASD COVID-19 policies

Lilly Guenther, Copy Editor

As a new year begins and COVID -19 cases remain a concern throughout the world, recommendations, guidelines, mandates, and other policies continue to change on community, state, nation, and worldwide levels. Here is a comprehensive update on the current policies within the Bellefonte Area School District. 

In her January 3 BASD Parents/Guardian/Staff Update, Distinct Superintendent Tammie Burnaford outlined the current “status and protocols” that are being followed by the district according to the current BASD Health and Safety Plan, as well as new quarantine and isolation guidelines that were issued on December 27 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These new guidelines have been followed throughout the month of January. 

The district continues to follow the “basic outline and tenets” of the current BASD Health and Safety Plan, which have been established throughout the past months and continue to develop. In her January 3 letter, Burnaford stated that “The Board will be reviewing our plan over the next few weeks.” 

The current plan allows parent to choose whether or not their individual students will wear masks in school, if the student has not tested positive or been identified as a close contact with someone who has. In her January 3 letter, Burnaford stated that “parents are highly encouraged to have their children wear masks,” and to “contact their children’s teachers to let them know their wishes.” Each school has a supply of medical-grade, KN95 masks available upon request. 

While usage of masks in school is optional, they remain a requirement on buses. This relates to the topic of policies regarding field trips, which there has been significant discussion about in recent weeks. 

Overall, field trips are currently being allowed, dependent on the infection rates of the area to be traveled to and a number of other factors. There are a number of rules and precautions to be taken. The BASD school board states 6 general guidelines for field trips that are to be followed, stating that:

“Field trips shall be governed by guidelines which ensure that…The safety and well-being of students will be protected at all times…Permission of the parent/guardian is sought and obtained before any student may participate…The principal approves the purpose, itinerary and duration of each proposed trip…Each field trip is properly planned, integrated with the curriculum, and followed up by appropriate activities that enhance its value.. Teachers are allowed flexibility and innovation in planning field trips… No field trip will be approved unless it contributes to the achievement of specific instructional objectives.

These guidelines have been adjusted in order to take into account factors and challenges presented by the pandemic. 

  The definition of “close contact” remains the same: those who have been within 3-6 feet of someone who tests positive for COVID-19 for more than fifteen consecutive minutes within 5 days before a positive test result are considered a close contact. However, vaccination status to be considered “exempt” from quarantine due to close contact has changed. A “booster” shot is required to meet this exemption. 

The PA Department of Health (DoH) guidelines that were issued on December 27 also changes the policy for isolation and quarantine guidelines.

Under current guidelines, students who test positive for COVID-19 are required to isolate themselves at home for a minimum of 5 days from the day they were tested or when symptoms began, and must be symptom free before returning to school. It is also encouraged that they have a negative test. 

In her most recent letter, on January 31, Burnaford announced that there is upcoming information regarding a voluntary, free COVID testing program that will be provided by the state. 

“Over the past week, we got preliminary approvals from the state and the company managing the testing program. We are working as quickly as we can to get the tests in our schools. They will be completely free and completely voluntary for our parents. The rapid tests can be given by our nurses to students on the spot with parent consent. Negative tests will allow students without symptoms to stay in school, too.  Mrs. Krisch, our Pandemic Coordinator, and our nurses are working through all of the paperwork and the logistics.  We will be sending more parent information in the next week or so,” Burnaford said. 

Students who are identified as a close contact who have not met the “booster shot” exemption status must quarantine for a minimum of 5 days from the last time they were in contact with the infected individual. There are different quarantine lengths dependent on whether the infected individual is inside or outside the household of the close contact. 

In her January 3 letter, Burnaford stated that “For both isolation and quarantine, persons absolutely MUST wear a mask for an additional 5 days if returning to school on Day 6. Parents may choose to keep their students home (both isolation and quarantine) to do remote learning for 10 days. Isolated and quarantined students are encouraged to attend their classes remotely via Google Classroom, if possible. 

Along with these guidelines for contact, isolation, and quarantine, the letter stated that the district will “continue all of our other mitigation measures as described in the BASD HS plan, including, but not limited to physical distancing to the largest extent possible, changes in lunch seating/locations, etc.”

In her January 31 letter, Burnaford provided an update on case and quarantine counts throughout the district. She concluded the letter by stating that “although case counts do seem to be starting to decline, we must remain vigilant. We are urging parents to continue to work with us and support all personal safety measures.”