Tuesday, May 21, 2024

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Do parents have to sign ‘permission slips’ before they can send their children back to school for in-person classes?

QUESTION: Is the Alamance-Burlington school system requiring parents to sign “permission slips” before they will be allowed to send their children back to school for in-person classes?

ANSWER: Not exactly. ABSS is asking parents (or students), as well as school employees, to complete an “attestation form”—that includes several questions about possible symptoms of and/or exposure to COVID-19 – each time before they come to school, in keeping with recommendations that the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) has outlined for reopening K-12 public schools amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

“We’ve had this in place since last summer for anyone returning to campus – coaches, student athletes, [and] staff,” ABSS public information officer Jenny Faulkner confirmed Tuesday for The Alamance News. “Every student in grades pre-K through 12th [grade] has to have this form completed before riding a bus or returning to campus.”

ABSS families have two options for the children’s instruction: starting this month, they could send their children to school for in-person classes two days a week, while instruction would continue to be provided remotely (i.e., online) the other three days; or their children could continue receiving remote-only instruction, as they had since 2020-21 school year began last August.

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ABSS elementary students returned March 1 for in-person instruction two days per week; the middle and high school students returned last Monday for in-person classes two days per week, based on the reopening plans that school board members approved earlier this year.

There were 9,773 ABSS elementary, middle, and high school students at school last Monday, which marked the first day that the middle and high schools reopened for in-person classes, Faulkner confirmed for the newspaper this week. That figure includes 1,045 middle and high school athletes who were on campus for practice sessions and games but are receiving their instruction remotely, she said.

Approximately 95 of the 115 N.C. public school systems had been offering some in-person instruction as of last month, based on an estimate that superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson previously provided for the school board’s ongoing discussions about reopening ABSS schools.

But starting early next month, ABSS elementary students will be eligible to return to school in-person five days a week (“Plan A”), under legislation that the General Assembly passed and which Gov. Roy Cooper signed last Thursday. The newly-enacted state law requires the state’s 115 public school systems to provide in-person instruction for K-5 students, with “minimal social distancing” requirements.

The elementary schools will offer in-person classes five days per week, starting April 12, the Monday after spring break, which had already been scheduled for April 2 through April 8, ABSS officials announced last week. (Friday, April 9 is designated on the current academic calendar as a teacher workday.)

The new law gives local school boards the discretion to decide which one of two plans to follow for instruction at the middle and high school levels: In-person, five days a week, with minimal requirements for social distancing (“Plan A”); or a mix of online and in-person instruction, with six-foot social distancing requirements (“Plan B”), under the Reopen Our Schools Act of 2021 that Cooper signed last week.

ABSS officials have not yet said whether middle and high school students will have the option to attend school in-person five days a week.

In the meantime, the attestation form that ABSS parents and/or students are asked to complete asks three questions about symptoms of and/or possible exposure to COVID-19, based on a copy of the form that Faulkner provided to the newspaper. The questions listed on the attestation form are nearly identical to those asked during the symptom screening process that, in recent months, has become a routine prerequisite for entry into most public buildings in the county and elsewhere in the state.

Specifically, the K-12 attestation asks: the child’s name; the name of his/her parent or guardian; whether the child has been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 14 days, or has been advised by a healthcare provider to quarantine; whether the child is exhibiting possible symptoms of the virus, such as fever or chills; and whether the child has been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Students who have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 are required to quarantine for 14 days, according to the K-12 attestation. Any student who tests positive but is asymptomatic is required to quarantine for 10 days before returning to school, based on the attestation form that ABSS provided, which must be completed and signed each day that a student is scheduled to be physically present at school.

Students also must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms and have their temperatures checked when they arrive at school, in addition to completing the attestation, according to NCDHHS. Daily symptom screenings and temperature checks are required for “any person entering [a school] building, including students, teachers, staff, and other visitors,” as well as daily temperature screenings, with a fever measured as 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

N.C. public schools are “required to enforce that staff and students stay home” if they test positive for or begin exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19; and/or if a they have close contact with someone who tests positive for the virus, based on the “Public Health Toolkit” for K-12 public schools that NCDHHS originally issued last June and updated earlier this month.

All ABSS parents who prefer to have their children continue to receive instruction remotely will retain that option, even after the elementary schools shift to “Plan A,” Faulkner said Tuesday.

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