Franklin County School Board approves mitigation to alleviate COVID exposure in county schools

Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 10:44 PM EDT
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ROCKY MOUNT, Va. (WDBJ) - A meeting was held Wednesday evening to mitigate the spread and exposure of COVID-19 in Franklin County Schools.

Eleven days into the 2021-2022 school year, more than 600 Franklin County students have been asked to quarantine. That accounts for about 10% of all the students in the county.

Its been just under 2 weeks since the passage of a mask mandate for all students, regardless of vaccination status in Franklin County. The school board also passed an exception to that mandate for students with religious or medical exemptions. Last year, with online and in-person learning, the county had roughly 15 exemptions. This year, the county has 1,225.

“When I see accomplished school leaders, when I see students and parents struggling, that tells me that we are not in a good place as a school division,” says Franklin County Schools Superintendent Dr. Bernice Cobbs.

The exemptions account for about 20% of students in the county. Currently, the middle and high schools have nearly 70 positive coronavirus cases all together.

“I think it is reasonable for individuals with exemptions to be offered accommodations in lieu of wearing a mask,” Cobbs adds.

The quarantine system for the county is decided as follows:

- If an unmasked student tests positive, all students who were within six feet of that person for 15 minutes or longer, and the infected student, are required to quarantine.

- If an unmasked student was within six feet for 15 minutes or more to a masked student who tested positive, the unmasked student is required to quarantine.

- If both students are masked, they are not required to quarantine.

- If a student is vaccinated, he/she is not required to quarantine.

Some board members wanted to make it more difficult for students to get mask exemptions.

“I move that a thorough documentation is required for all mask exemptions, including a doctor’s authorization form for medical exemptions,” attempted Jon Atchue of the Gills Creek District.

That motion was not entertained by the board because school district attorney Steve Maddy believed requiring that kind of documentation for exemption would be against the law.

That mitigation that did pass in a 7-1 vote includes cohorting equitably, sanitizing between classes, safe zones with trifolds, stagger or minimize use of community spaces, limit assemblies and other school gatherings during high transmission periods, limit non-essential adult interaction, and prioritize education over extracurricular.

The board says it will help bring consistency to the schools and hopefully drive down the spread and exposure to COVID.

Board members also said Wednesday evening that about one in five students who are eligible to get a vaccine have received the shot.

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