Teachers could remain in the classroom if exposed to COVID-19

ATLANTA – New guidance from President Donald Trump’s administration declaring teachers to be “critical infrastructure workers” could give the green light for the release of quarantine teachers after they were exposed to COVID-19 and instead, send them back to class.

Keeping teachers in class without symptoms, because a handful of school districts in Tennessee and Georgia have already said they can do so, runs the risk of spreading the breathing of the respirators to students and college staff. Multiple teachers may be required by health authorities for 14 days in an outbreak, which may extend a district’s ability to provide personal instruction.

South Carolina health officials also describe teachers as critical infrastructure workers, though it is not clear if one district there requires teachers to return for 14 days.

Among the first districts to name teachers as critical infrastructure workers was eastern Tennessee’s Greene County, where the school board gave the July 13 designation.

“It essentially means when we’re exposed and we know we can be potentially positive, we still have to get to school and we can be carriers and distributors at that point,” said Hillary Buckner, who teaches Spanish to the Chuckey. -Doak High School in Afton.

Buckner, secretary of the National Education Association’s branch branch, said it was unethical for teachers to infect students. Kindergarten and kindergarten students alone currently follow face-to-class in 7,500 Greene County students, who go two-and-a-half hours a day two days a week. Teachers give others online from their classrooms, Buckner said, but she said the local school board could soon mandate a broader returning person.

Data provided by The Associated Press shows the coronavirus is spreading faster per capita in Georgia than any other state, while Tennessee has the seventh-fastest spread. A few schools reopened for in-person instruction in both states have already closed after reported cases. Gordon Central High School in northwestern Georgia, Calhoun, switched to online instruction with a high number of quarantine teachers on Wednesday.

At least five other school districts in Tennessee have given the designation to their teachers, and they sought to exempt them from quarantine orders. Gov. Bill Lee on Tuesday blessed the move, with his administration saying it would accept the designation, citing the Homeland Security Department’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency.

That agency on Tuesday released its fourth version of who counts as a critical infrastructure worker, saying for the first time that teachers should be on the list alongside nurses, police officers and meat packers. Such workers may be allowed to work after COVID-19 exposure “provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautionary measures are implemented to protect themselves and the community,” states the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The decision is from the neighborhood,” Republican Lee said at a news conference Tuesday. “If they make that decision, we have given them guidance that they must follow when choosing that critical infrastructure designation.”

In Georgia, Forsyth County of suburban Atlanta has also appointed teachers as critical infrastructure workers. Spokeswoman Jennifer Caracciolo said that means they can be told to return to classrooms, but said the 50,000-student district will decide on a case-by-case basis.

A spokesman for Georg Gov. Brian Kemp said his administration is evaluating whether it wants to include federal guidance in Georgia’s legal framework, which could encourage more districts to take action.

“We’ve had some superintendents ask where the administration is on this subject,” said Candice Broce, a Republican Kemp spokeswoman. “We’re in submission mode.”

A lawyer for Kemp on Wednesday wrote an e-mail telling him in the Floyd County district of Georgia that teachers will remain subject to quarantine orders until Kemp as health officials decides whether to include federal guidance. Floyd County said Thursday it would reverse its designation of teachers as critical infrastructure workers.

Critics in Georgia say the designation would issue new health guidelines issued to schools that say exposed teachers should be quarantined for 14 days, even if they receive a negative test.

Craig Harper, director of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, a non-union association, said it was “reckless and at odds with the latest Georgia Department of Public Health guidance intended to protect student and educators’ health and the spread of it.” to control viruses. “

Teachers’ unions and national school administration groups could not set an example in other states on Wednesday.

NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said in a statement that the designation “has no legal merit and is more of a rhetorical gambit to give President Trump and those administrators who ignore the advice and guidance of public health experts an apology to educators in insecure to force schools. ”

U.S. Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten expressed similar sentiments, saying “the Trump administration will always try to change the rules to threaten, harass and coerce.”

“If the president really saw us as essential, he would deal with it,” Weingarten said in a statement. “Teachers are and always have been essential workers – but not essential enough, it seems, for the Trump administration to oblige the resources needed to keep them safe in the classroom.”


Associated Press writer Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.


Follow AP pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.