School board approves COVID response before start of school: Masks not required, quarantine optional for some

In one week, all of the school buildings in Brown County will be filled once again with a flurry of activity as students and staff return to start another school year.

The first day of school for Brown County students is Aug. 10. As the first day of school nears, one question most likely remains on the minds of parents and caregivers: Will masks be required in schools and on buses?

The short answer: No.

The Brown County School Board of Trustees unanimously approved the COVID-19 educational service delivery plan for this upcoming school year at their July 21 meeting. The plan does not include a mask requirement for classrooms and school buildings. The federal guidance also no longer requires masks on buses.

This school year two metrics will continue to inform the school district’s response to COVID-19: the percent of a building population absent related to active exposure cases including testing positive, having symptoms, awaiting test results and being identified as a close contact; and the percentage of a building population reporting symptoms of COVID-19.

The district’s response to COVID-19 is separated into two levels: red, or substantial spread, and green, or low to no spread.

A school building will be considered for closure under the “red level” if 20% of the building population is reporting COVID-19 symptoms or if 20% or more of the building population are absent due to testing positive for COVID-19, having symptoms, being identified as a close contact or awaiting test results.

Extra-curricular activates may also be canceled if 20% or more of a building population is reporting COVID-19 symptoms.

If a building is closed under the “red” response level five breakfasts, five lunches and five dinners will be available for pickup one day per week at distribution sites in the district, according to the plan.

As long as a building remains in the “green level” of low to no spread of the virus, students and staff will learn in-person. The school district is reviewing virtual options for students on an individual basis, according to the plan.

If a building is closed and students are to learn remotely, the school district will provide instruction just as if the student was in the classroom. This could include a recorded instructional lesson followed by a “live” instructional session with a teacher on the Canvas learning management system. Students will be expected to attend all sessions and complete all work while learning remote.

Under the red level, preschool programs will remain closed.

Parents are still asked to screen their child before bringing them to school or putting them on the school bus each day. If a child has one or more of the following symptoms they should be kept home: fever of 100.4 or chills, sore throat, cough — especially a new onset, uncontrolled cough — or shortness of breath, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain, headache and new loss of taste or smell.

Superintendent Emily Tracy said it is important to remember self-screenings and to wash hands as the school year is set to start.

“We have experienced multiple COVID-19 positive cases throughout the summer across the district,” Tracy said last week.

“It is important as we gear up to return to school that we remember to conduct self-screening and promote hygiene — hand washing and hand sanitizing. Brown County Schools will work hard to continue to be diligent in cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing surfaces across the district.”

COVID-19 cases have been on the uptick locally. From July 5 through 24, the county reported an additional 55 positive cases.

Under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention measurements, counties are classified in three different levels: low (green), medium (yellow) and high (orange). As of July 21, Brown County was in the “green” level on the CDC map.

The levels are determined by how many hospital beds are being used, the number of hospital admissions and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area, according to the CDC.

If there is a positive COVID-19 case in a home this school year parents must call the district’s positive COVID-19 test hotline: 812-988-3477.

Fully vaccinated, asymptomatic individuals will have the option not to quarantine if they are identified as a close contact and provide proof of their vaccination status, according to the plan.

Other protective measures in place during the school day include providing water filtration systems in the buildings to fill up water bottles or students can bring them from home. Students will also be discouraged from congregating in parking lots and common areas. They will also be encouraged to wash their hands often, especially after using the restroom, blowing their nose or coughing and before eating. Soap and hand sanitizer will be available throughout each building and in each classroom, the plan states.

Routine cleaning of restrooms, all floors, cafeterias and classrooms will also be performed. High touch surfaces will also be disinfected often to prevent any spread.

A reporting process is also established to track symptoms, absences, COVID cases and communicate with the local health department.

This school year’s plan is subject to change by order of Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office. The entire plan is available at on the “COVID-19 Updates” page under the “Resources” tab.

A daily metric report for each school building is also available on the school district’s website.

Anyone with questions about the COVID-19 educational service delivery plan are asked to reach out to Tracy and the school corporation’s nurse Elizabeth Hill.

As of July 1, the Brown County Health Department ceased testing for COVID-19 as the demand for testing continues to decrease. But the health department will offer the Pfizer vaccine to children 6 months and older. To make an appointment call 211 or visit Vaccinations for all ages are administered Monday through Friday from 1 to 3:20 p.m. at the health department, 200 Hawthorne Drive.