ATLANTA: New guidance from the President Donald Trump’s administration that declares teachers to be “critical infrastructure workers” could give the green light to exempting teachers from quarantine requirements after being exposed to COVID-19 and instead send them back into the classroom.
Keeping teachers without symptoms in the classroom, as a handful of school districts in Tennessee and Georgia have already said they may do, raises the risk that they will spread the respiratory illness to students and fellow employees. Experience from schools that reopened for face-to-face instruction in recent weeks shows multiple teachers can be required by public health agencies to quarantine for 14 days during an outbreak. That could stretch a district’s ability to keep providing in-person instruction.
Among the first districts to designate teachers as critical infrastructure workers was eastern Tennessee’s Greene County, where the school board voted to designate teachers as critical infrastructure workers on July 13.
“It essentially means if we are exposed and we know we might potentially be positive, we still have to come to school and we might at that point be carriers and spreaders,” said Hillary Buckner, who teaches Spanish at Chuckey-Doak High School in Afton.
Buckner, secretary of the county-level affiliate of the National Education Association, said she has tried to raise the alarm, saying it’s unethical for teachers risk infecting students. Only prekindergarten and kindergarten students are currently attending class face-to-face in 7,500-student Greene County, and they’re only going two days a week for two-and-a-half hours a day. Teachers are instructing others online from their classrooms, Buckner said, but she said the local school board could mandate a broader in-person return soon.