Oconee County Schools will begin classes on Wednesday without making any changes in its COVID-19 protocols despite guidance issued last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at odds with those plans.
The CDC on July 27 issued new recommendations calling for universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
The CDC also added a recommendation that fully vaccinated people should wear a mask in public indoor settings in areas of substantial or high transmission of the disease.
At the time of the new guidance, Oconee County was labeled as having high transmission, and the county continues to be labeled as high transmission for the July 26 to Aug. 1 period.
Dallas LeDuff, director of Student Services for Oconee County Schools, announced on July 19 that masks and COVID-19 vaccinations are not required for employees or students.
Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, director of Communications for Oconee County Schools, said on Monday that the protocols outlined by LeDuff and on the school web site remain unchanged.
LeDuff told the Board of Education on July 19–the date of its last meeting--that the seven day moving average of cases in Oconee County was 1.6 and that 51 percent of county residents have been vaccinated.
|LeDuff Addressing Board Members Tim Burgess,|
Michael Ransom 7/19/2021
On July 19, 2020, LeDuff said, the seven day moving average for positive cases in Oconee County was 9.4 “and, of course, the vaccine wasn't available at that time, so zero percent of residents were vaccinated.”
LeDuff was reporting the combined count of molecular and antigen-based cases for both July 19 of 2020 and July 19 of 2021.
On July 30 of this year, that figure had reached 9.4 again. It was 8.9 on Sunday and dropped back to 8.3 on Monday.
Oconee County’s vaccination rate remains at 51.1 percent, according to the Department of Public Health estimate reported on its web site on Monday.
Jimenez Response To CDC
I asked Jimenez in an email message on Monday morning if, in light of the CDC recommendations, there were any changes in the protocol for the beginning of classes on Wednesday, when all classes will be in-person.
“Our plan remains what is stated here,” she wrote back, directing me to the school web page.
I also asked her to inform me if any changes that were made during the day, given that faculty and staff were returning to the classrooms in preparation for the arrival of students on Wednesday.
She did not change her response later in the day.
The protocols on the OCS web site state that “Staff, students, and visitors are not required, but may choose, to wear masks while on Oconee County Schools (OCS) properties.”
“COVID-19 vaccinations are not required for employees or students, but remain available and accessible,” the web site states.
OCS will continue reporting positive cases to the state Department of Public Health to assist with contact tracing efforts. The Department of Public Health will be the lead on contact tracing and will make all notifications to close contacts in partnership with OCS.
“OCS will not issue mandated precautionary quarantines,” the web site states. “Schools will notify parents/staff when a positive COVID-19 case occurs in an individual’s classroom.
“This notification will request that students/staff monitor for symptoms,” the statement continues.
“The Department of Public Health is the agency responsible for notifying individuals if there is a need to quarantine in partnership with OCS,” according to the protocols on the web site.
The site states that “Enhanced cleaning procedures will remain in place in schools and on buses. In addition, classrooms will continue to be equipped with hand sanitizer stations.”
During the last academic year, principals at schools where a positive test for COVID-19 surfaced informed all parents at that school of the test results.
|Jimenez Addressing Board Members Kim Argo,|
Tim Burgess, Michael Ransom 7/19/2021
In addition, OCS provided a summary each Friday of COVID-19 cases during the past week. That summary was sent to parents of students in all of the schools and placed on the OCS web site.
I asked Jimenez if those two notifications would continue.
“As stated on the website, 'Schools will notify parents/staff when a positive COVID-19 case occurs in an individual’s classroom. This notification will request that students/staff monitor for symptoms,’" Jimenez responded.
“That is the communication that will occur,” she continued.
I asked Jimenez again to be specific and indicate whether the notification to all parents at the affected school would continue and whether the weekly summary would be produced.
Jimenez did not respond.
Last week I had asked Jimenez about any changes that had been made at Oconee County Schools in ventilation systems in preparation for the beginning of classes.
The U.S. Department of Education has informed schools that they can use American Rescue Plan education funds for a variety of activities designed to improve ventilation in schools.
Included are inspection, testing, and maintenance of current ventilation systems, purchasing of portable air filtration units, repairing windows and/or doors so that they can open to let in fresh air, and purchasing equipment to run outdoor classes.
I sent the U.S. Department of Education advisory from its web site to Jimenez.
“Oconee County Schools engages in ongoing preventative maintenance of HVAC systems,” she responded. “Filters are changed regularly and, when systems are updated, they are done so with the latest technological advances in mind.
“Further, schools increasingly utilized new and existing outdoor learning spaces that continue to be available for the upcoming school year,” she wrote.
Jimenez said no rescue funds were used for any ventilation improvements.