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How will schools try to limit COVID-19’s spread?: Appo district discusses notification of positive cases when hybrid learning begins

Amanda Parrish
Middletown Transcript

ODESSA -- Schools will start the year virtually for six weeks, and students will likely be back in the building for hybrid learning by mid-October. Parents want to know how the schools plan to limit the spread of COVID-19.

At the Appoquinimink Board of Education meeting Aug. 26, district staff and board members took emailed questions from parents about the safety practices schools will use and how they will be notified if someone tests positive for the virus when their children are back in school.

Public school districts are required to notify families when they learn of positive COVID-19 cases in their buildings, in an Aug. 26 modification to Gov. John Carney’s State of Emergency.

Yvonne Camac, Appoquinimink School District’s lead nurse, said they will notify families and the public about cases in the district.

“There is no clear cut or cookie cutter way for these clear communications. It depends on the situation,” she said during the meeting.

Schools will determine how parents are notified and what information will be included, but the school must follow state and federal privacy laws.  

Students or teachers cannot be named if they test positive, but Board President Richard Forsten recognized it could be difficult to hide the identity of the teacher.

“Federal regulations come into play here. You are not allowed to disclose specific health issues in respect to specific individuals,” he said. “They might be able to say someone in this class tested positive, but they won’t be able to say who.”

While schools are required to report COVID-19 cases in the school, Forsten said DPH hasn't provided any guidance on if families will be required to report if their child tests positive.

Camac said this shouldn’t be a problem because DPH is notified of all positive cases. Through contact tracing, public health officials notify the school and school nurses.

“We get notified of positive cases even if a parent or student doesn’t tell us,” she said.

School nurses will learn the names of those who test positive, but they are required to keep their information private from staff members and the public, Camac said.

A healthcare worker with ChristianaCare takes a swab from a person in a vehicle during drive-thru coronavirus testing.

DPH provided self-monitoring guidelines which will be given to families and staff to help screen for COVID-19 symptoms, such as checking for a high temperature before leaving home.

“The bottom line of all of this is stay home if you are sick,” she said.

Staff will be required to get tested before in-person classes start and will be tested monthly, unless guidelines from DPH change, Camac said. Students will not be required to get tested, but it is encouraged by the district.

Safety practices

Social distancing markers will be on buses and in classrooms, with signs throughout the schools reminding students and staff to keep the recommended 6 feet apart. She said students might be given assigned seats.

All staff and K-12 students will have to wear face masks on buses and throughout the school day. Plexiglass shields will be in all offices and some classrooms as needed.

Hand sanitizing stations will be in main traffic ways, such as classrooms, buses and offices.

To limit hallway congestion, she said all schools will use “E-Hall Passes,” which have already been used at Appoquinimink High School and Alfred G. Waters Middle School

“This system will help with decreasing traffic in hallways, bathrooms, and other areas,” Carmac said. “We will be able to track student movement throughout the day, so teachers can see if it is appropriate to send students out-and-about.”