Parents plea for change in Covid Contact Protocol at school

Ever been in a situation when everyone wanted the same thing but couldn’t agree on how to get it done? Usually nothing gets done. That was the case this past Monday when a spirited discussion was held among Jackson Parish School Board members and three parents who were speaking for the masses regarding the current regulations in place regarding COVID contact protocol and the effect they are having.

Well sort of… While no concrete action took place, after the parents and virtually every board member made suggestions and Superintendent David Claxton made his recommendation, it was decided that a special meeting of the board would be called soon to make a decision on how to move forward. 

One issue is the current policy that states if a student has been within three feet (close contact) of a person who has contracted COVID, the student must be quarantined for five days before they can come back to school. 

According to Candice Leach this policy is unnecessary.

“Through my work, I am on the frontline of dealing with the pandemic,” said Leach. “The severity of this new strain of COVID is not near as bad as before and the policy of sending a healthy child home for the same period of time as a sick one just because they have had contact them needs to change.” 

Leach also offered a couple of suggestions on what could be done to alleviate the situation.

“I think that parents should have the option of allowing their child to stay in school or stay at home,” continued Leach. “If they go back to school, have them wear a mask for 5 or 10 days.”

Dana Williams echoed the sentiment.

I also deal with the COVID pandemic in my profession on a daily basis and I can tell you that when we test those who are said to have “close contact” that hardly any of them ever come back positive, “said Williams. “I have four kids in school from the 1st to the 11th grade and I agree the parent should have the choice of whether their kids should be in school or not.”

Chris Lee, Pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, brought up other issues that often gets overlooked but is just as important in the development of a child. 

“My children are young and all they have ever known is “pandemic schooling,” expressed Lee. “I have seen the effects this has caused in my own and other children. Lockdown, masking and isolation has had a detrimental effect on them. I am very concerned about their mental health as they are discouraged and on the verge of suffering with depression. I implore you to explore other options and lift the restrictions as best you can.”

There is also the confirmed issue of the students suffering in the classroom as result of being forced to miss days at school. While Jackson Parish rated the highest among parishes last year, every school system in the state showed lower performance scores than the year before and once again this year scores are at an unacceptable level. 

Leach expounded on this fact to the board.

“My children have made straight A’s every year in school up to now,” explained Leach. “They have been forced to miss many days of school due to being in “close contact” with another student even though they are healthy. They fall behind because they are not in the classroom and their grades have slipped because they are not getting the instruction they should be receiving. We try and work with them, but we are not teachers.  

Lee also chimed in on the lack of instruction and education skills students should be receiving. 

“I realize the effort made through “virtual learning” classes but that is not the same as being in the classroom with a teacher. It doesn’t work. Even as a parent I have trouble following the instructions online.” 

District 6 Board Member Wade McBride agreed with the assessments. 

“We made a policy, but the policy is not working. We are failing in our effort to educate the kids and I think that should be the #1 priority,” McBride profoundly expressed. “I think the parents should have the control to make choices for their children and that some common sense be used.”

In response to the passionate pleas, Superintendent Claxton stated that he understood where the comments were coming from and agreed with them but at the same time the board was forced to act under the law. 

“We want the kids in school. I agree 100% with your concerns but we have regulations that are handed down by the state that we have to follow,” said Claxton. “We feel strongly about giving parents a voice and wanted their input, so we sent out a survey to ask which was preferred of the two recommended procedure options.”

Survey options parents were given:

Option 1: Mandatory mask mandate for all students, faculty and staff during school hours. “Close Contact” cases WILL NOT be excluded from school as long as they remain symptom free. Contact tracing will be reduced from 6 feet to 3 feet. If “close contact” school nurse to be notified. Parent has choice to keep child in school as long as they sign a waiver and student wears a mask and remains asymptomatic. Pre-K and Kindergarten are exempt from this option because younger students can’ comply with wearing a face mask during nap time. 

Option 2: “Close contact” students WILL BE excluded from school for a minimum of 5 days and should remain quarantined at home. Healthcare provider should be consulted for instructions on whether to be tested or not. Return date to school shall be determined by the school nurse but should return after 5 days as long as no symptoms are present. A mask must be worn for 10 days following return. 

“We got back 819 responses'” continued Claxton. “Fifty-six percent (56%) said they wanted Option One.”

This led Mr. Lee to ask why the board couldn’t incorporate another option like the one Bossier Parish has incorporated which is basically Option One without requiring a mask mandate. 

This led to even another debate on the question of legality of what Bossier Parish is doing.

“I don’t want the kids to have to wear a mask and I want them in school,” said Vice President and District Two member, Calvin Waggoner. “We have to figure out a way, but we can’t break the law.”

District 7 Member Dennis Clary offered more along those lines.

“If we get outside the Governor’s Proclamation then insurance would not pay if something went wrong,” explained Clary.

Superintendent Claxton followed that up by reading an excerpt from an email he received from the insurance company that stated in summary that if actions were taken outside of the law that it would revoke the policy and the insurance company would not cover any claims. 

As several members said they liked the procedure that Bossier Parish was following it was asked for Superintendent Claxton to research this and see how they are proceeding and staying within the law. 

“I think that if a new survey was sent with this new option that a major majority of parents would approve it,” voiced District One Member, Mary Saulters. 

District 3 Member Ricky McBride offered the final suggestion that all agreed on and concluded the discussion. 

“I don’t mind looking at another option, but I want to look further into this before we decide anything to make sure we are doing things right,” said McBride. “I also want us to have another meeting as soon as possible so we can get something done.”

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