Three teachers in Pittsylvania County Schools have tested positive for COVID-19 this month, and 15 others are in quarantine, just days before the academic year begins remotely Monday.
Assistant Superintendent for Administration Steven Mayhew confirmed Friday two teachers at Kentuck Elementary School and one at Tunstall Middle School tested positive within the past two weeks. He added that the 15 teachers who currently are in quarantine after being identified as possibly being within a window of exposure have all tested negative for COVID-19.
Superintendent Mark Jones said the division’s administration is confident proper and thorough contact tracing has curbed any possible spread to a larger number of employees.
“Our process is working, we feel, in that early identification and following protocols, just having a limited number,” he said.
Mayhew said the district believes one of the cases at Kentuck Elementary likely is the result of the teacher picking up the virus from her child, who had maybe contracted it elsewhere. The division learned the teacher began showing symptoms Aug. 11, and a positive test was reported Aug. 13.
Through contact tracing procedures, one other individual was told to quarantine after previously being around the original teacher.
The district learned of the second positive case at Kentuck Elementary on Sunday, three days after teachers there held a virtual open house to welcome students to the school year, Mayhew said. Students and parents participated from computers at home, but teachers gathered in a socially- distanced auditorium at the school.
Upon learning of the teacher’s symptoms and positive case, the district told six other teachers present at the open house to begin a quarantine period. The teacher who tested positive Aug. 11 was not present at the open house.
“They’re not related that we can tell,” Mayhew said of the school’s two cases. “The case from August 11th was already handled [by the time of the open house].”
Mayhew said the positive case at Tunstall Middle School likely stems from a teacher’s child passing along the illness to her. That teacher began showing symptoms Aug. 12 and had a positive test confirmed Sunday, Mayhew said.
He said the safety protocol in the event of a positive case called for the district to determine who else would have been at risk for exposure in the two days before the teacher became symptomatic. The district learned that eight teachers met that criteria after working alongside the original teacher during a series of collaboration sessions between Aug. 10 and Sunday. Mayhew said that group includes one teacher from Dan River Middle School who joined the teachers at Tunstall Middle School on Aug. 11.
All teachers in that group were told Aug. 13 to stay in quarantine for two weeks.
Upon learning of the positive cases, Mayhew said the principals at Kentuck Elementary School and Tunstall Middle School notified the entire staff at each site.
Areas within the school that might have dealt with exposure were closed for 24 hours before being cleaned and sanitized.
Mayhew noted, however, that, “They’re doing their deep cleaning every day anyway.”
With classes beginning Monday, Mayhew said many of the teachers in quarantine — due to the positive tests or as a precautionary measure — are prepared to work from home instead of reporting to their school buildings. In the event the teachers are not feeling well enough to work, Mayhew said other arrangements will be made to provide instruction.
“Depending on where they are in their recovery, we’ve found the first few days are kind of rough and after that they tend to feel better, but I think each one of them is prepared to do what they need to do,” Mayhew said. “What I’ve been told, all of the individuals are prepared to provide that instruction in their present circumstances.”
If that changes, it’s possible another staff member may fill in. Mayhew did not expect substitute teachers to be in use until children return to in-person learning.
On the topic of in-person learning, the Pittsylvania County School Board will hold a special session at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Chatham Middle School to hear an updated report on the COVID-19 situation across the county.
Jones will review health department data provided by Pittsylvania-Danville Health District Director Scott Spillmann.
That information will heavily influence the decision to possibly open schools for preschoolers through third-graders starting Sept. 8. English learners and special education students also are included in that timeline.
“We’d like to do that by September 8, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” Mayhew said. “It depends what the data looks like.”
In the meantime, for any days of work teachers miss because of COVID-19 or subsequent quarantining measures, their pay is protected through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which is enforced through the U.S. Department of Labor. That program allows for employees to miss time becasue of COVID-19 precautions without taking away from their normal allotted amount of sick leave through their jobs with the school division.
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