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On their first day of school for the 2021-2022 calendar year, fifth graders in Trena Davis’s class at Walton’s Lewis Cass Elementary do an icebreaker exercise to become acquainted with one another.

The Lewis Cass Schools board voted Thursday in favor of a new health and safety policy change following a public hearing on the issue of contact tracing and quarantining.

Under the new policy, which took effect immediately after the vote, when a child comes in contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, yet the child remains asymptomatic, parents will now have the option of keeping the child at home or allowing him or her to stay in school.

More than 700 staff, faculty, students and community members voted in a schoolwide survey, with results indicating a favorable move toward updating the past plan.

Changing the venue from the administration building to the high school auditorium to accommodate a larger crowd, board president Ryan Zeck said the group began looking into a possible policy change after last year’s COVID-19 results indicated a low percentage of students had actually contracted the virus.

“Keeping our kids healthy is our number-one priority,” he said, adding that education also is at the top of the list. “We want to keep kids in class. That’s where they learn the best.”

If a child stays in school, that student must visit the school nurse first thing in the morning. The nurse will check temperatures and monitor for symptoms for up to 14 days.

Superintendent Dr. Tim Garland advised parents to update their children’s medical information. If a student suffers from allergies, state that in the corporation’s database, he said. This way, when the school nurse is checking for symptoms, those issues like sneezing or a sore throat — which could be attributed to either the virus or hay fever — would be known. Instead of sending a student home for a cough and runny nose, the nurse would likely determine that the student is dealing with seasonal allergies and not COVID-19.

If health conditions are not included in a student’s files, and he or she suffers allergy-like symptoms while undergoing contact tracing protocol, then the nurse would likely send the child home as a precautionary measure.

In addition, parents will have the choice as to whether their children wear masks or not, said Zeck. Currently, masks are optional.

Student Derek Landis wanted to know how vaccines played a role in the policy.

Zeck said anyone who has been vaccinated and does not present symptoms can stay in school. The same procedure will extend to anyone who plays sports or is active in drama, band or choir.

This includes any football players who have been under quarantine since Sunday, when two players tested positive. This led to the team canceling its game against Pioneer on Friday.

Teresa Mygrant wanted to make sure her daughter, who manages the team, could return to school, since she does not have any symptoms and has already been under quarantine per previous guidelines.

Zeck told Mygrant that her daughter could return as early as Friday.

Based upon the new procedure, Mygrant’s daughter — like any returning student — will have to check in with the nurse in the morning. Then, said Dr. Garland, someone from the office will make a phone call to all parents to verify decisions.

And, said board member Matt Lewellen, “do not send your kid to school with symptoms.”

Currently, Lewis Cass Schools has four positive cases — two at the elementary and two at the high school.

Zeck said if 20% of the student body would be absent, the school would close for a specific amount of time — just like any other time when the corporation has had to deal with an influenza outbreak.

For now, though, this change is about giving parents control over the health and safety of their children while letting the corporation stay focused on education. If everyone does his or her job, said Zeck, then it should be a good outcome for all involved.

The vote for this policy change was 4-0, with board member Amy Miller absent.

Reach Kristi Hileman at kristi.hileman@pharostribune.com or 574-732-5150

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