Clark NJ School Reopening- Here’s Why Superintendent Says Students Exposed To Coronavirus Won’t Have To Quarantine
Across the United States of America, the season of school starting again is amongst us. Of course, unlike most normal
Across the United States of America, the season of school starting again is amongst us. Of course, unlike most normal school years, this school year is different than any we have ever lived through since we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. From March on, many school districts across the country ended up closing, converting to a more remote option. Now, with the push to reopen the country, there has also been a major push to reopen schools.
While New Jersey has been one of the most conservative states in terms of reopening- and in terms of quarantining from the get-go- at this point in-person instruction is said to be required. While some districts such as Jersey City are claiming they still will go all-virtual, many districts are coming up with plans that offer hybrid options; specifically, they will offer a combination of in-person and remote instruction. Districts are also giving parents the option to opt for fully remote instruction if they are not comfortable being sent back; however, the same courtesy is not being given to teachers, as they are being forced to return or risk losing their jobs.
An Egregious Item
As aforementioned, individual districts are coming up with plans that they feel best suit the needs of their community in order to return to school in the safest manner possible. Examining Clark, New Jersey’s plan, though, has pointed to a very concerning item that was brought to our attention; specifically, #13 of their plan, which reads the following:
As can be seen, it specifically states that “if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID-19, the parents/guardians of the students in that class(es) will be notified.”
This, obviously, make sense- but it’s the next line that is particularly concerning.
“However,” this point continues, “the students and staff member(s) in that class(es) will not be required to quarantine as a result of such preventive measures as hand sanitizing, social distancing, and the wearing of face coverings being taken. These students and staff member(s) can therefore immediately return to school.”
This point is particularly mind-boggling, as every bit of news and advice from medical personnel to date surrounding the coronavirus has stated that if you have been exposed to someone who has the coronavirus (or traveled to a country with a large outbreak) you should/must quarantine for 14 days. There are even certain states that require visitors from certain other states to quarantine for 14 days upon arriving, which draws the question of where this idea of not forcing those students and staff members exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus to also quarantine for 14 days in an effort to stop the spread came from.
“Not My Guidance”
A very interesting Facebook screenshot from a local group was also sent our way that continued to drive home the alarming nature of this bullet point. Here it is:
Nancy Raymond is the Clark, New Jersey Health Officer. As can be seen above, she specifically states “This is not my guidance. This is the BOE [Board Of Education] plan.”
It certainly seems fair to question why the guidance of the local health officer would not be followed, and rather the Board of Education would come up with their own plan.
We did reach out to Raymond numerous times but were unable to get a comment back.
We immediately reached out to Ed Grande, the superintendent of the Clark Public Schools.
Grande initially wrote back, pointing me to the FAQ document the district had posted following their revealing of the plan, specifically copying and pasting the following:
“Question: Why aren’t students and staff members quarantining when in a class with a student who tests positive for COVID-19?
Answer: It is not that these students and staff members will never be required to quarantine. The quarantining will be handled on a case-by-case basis. Contact tracing will be conducted by the local Health Department as appropriate with the assistance and cooperation of parents, teachers, school nurses, administrators, and the student him/herself. This contact tracing will help inform the need for a quarantine. If there is doubt while that process takes place, we will always err on the side of caution regarding the health and well-being of our students and staff members. Please know that the local Health Departments are waiting for further guidance from the NJDOH who is working in conjunction with the NJDOE to finalize guidance.”
We still wanted more clarification, though, and we wrote back asking the following questions:
- Why wouldn’t the entire class and teacher(s) be required to quarantine in an effort to be cautious rather than by claiming this would be “handled on a case-by-case basis?”
- What would exemplify a case where quarantining would not be necessary, and could a specific example be provided?
- Why is the Clark Health Officer saying on social media she wants to be clear this is not her guidance?
- Why was the Clark Health Officer not consulted in the planning process for reopening schools in terms of seeking her guidance?
An “Information Based Decision”
Grande did respond to our questions, giving the following statement: “Our local Health Officer has been consulted with and, as always, has been a great resource for us. With that being said, we, as a school district, ultimately make a decision based on all of the information available at the time. As was previously stated, the NJDOH [New Jersey Department Of Health] and the NJDOE [New Jersey Department Of Education] will be providing additional guidance that could alter our approach.”
“At the current time,” Grande continued, “an individual is considered to be at risk when he or she was within six feet of contact with a positive case for at least ten minutes. Classmates may be placed in quarantine as a preventive measure while the contact tracing is being conducted but, upon its conclusion, removed from the quarantine if not at risk.”
“Once again, Grande added, “we will always err on the side of caution if there is any doubt whatsoever in addition to allowing for flexibility with the attendance policy should parents choose to quarantine their child.”
Grande also added that “The converse argument that a child’s parents may not want him or her still removed from school if there is complete certainty around there being no risk whatsoever to their child after the contact tracing is conducted also needs to be considered.”
In New Jersey, the school year does not officially begin until early September, so there is still some time in which things could change. Our Governor could declare that, after more examination, he is calling for complete remote learning; or, if things stay on the same trajectory, schools could open as planned.
With some schools around the country already having opened- and coronavirus cases being reported at some- it will certainly be interesting to see where this goes.