Georgia schools could close their doors for more than two weeks if a student or teacher tests positive for COVID-19, according to revised guidelines from the state Department of Education released Monday.
“The updates will equip districts and schools to mount a targeted response based on confirmed COVID-19 cases or exposures within a school community,” department spokeswoman Meghan Frick said in a statement.
The revisions add two pages to a 10-page document released by the education department in early June and include recommendations for closing schools when a case of the virus is confirmed. The term “closure” appears once in the original document and 17 times in the revision.
Under the recommendations, a student or school employee who has been near someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 would need to self-quarantine for 14 days after the exposure. Testing negative during that time would not shorten the quarantine.
If that student or employee develops symptoms, they will have to wait at least ten days from the first day they showed symptoms to return to school, and they will have to be fever-free for at least three days. That is the same quarantine length for people who test positive for COVID-19 and show symptoms.
People who do not show symptoms can go back to school 10 days after a positive test if they remain asymptomatic for the entire time.
Positive cases can also trigger schools to temporarily close, either in part or in full. School districts should consult with their local health department to decide whether and for how long a shut down is needed based on the school and community.
Schools that close are encouraged to switch to remote learning, participate in contact tracing efforts and form a return to school committee, among other measures.
Teachers, staff and students should be told to stay home if they test positive, show COVID-19 symptoms or have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19, according to the document. Still, the guidelines are not mandatory, nor should districts need to change their plans weeks before school begins, Frick said.
Many Georgia school districts are making decisions this month about how to restart classes in August after an abrupt end to the last school year.
“These are updates to the existing plan and should not necessitate changes in already-developed district-level plans,” Frick said. “Districts continue to have the flexibility to implement prevention strategies above and beyond the recommendations laid out in this guidance and adopt instructional models that best serve their students, teachers, and community.”
Also on Monday, the Department of Education asked the U.S. Department of Education to cancel standardized testing requirements for another year. If it is approved, Georgia students will not need to take tests, including the Georgia Milestones, this year.
School districts can conduct a free test called BEACON. Unlike Milestones, BEACON is intended solely to measure student progress and not to rate teachers or schools.
The state secured a similar waiver in March for the last school year when Kemp shut down the state’s public schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19.