Jan 10, 2022 - News

Georgia eases some COVID guidelines for school districts

Magnets on a school locker in the shape of a contact tracing chart.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

The state Department of Public Health has relaxed some guidelines for Georgia school districts in their efforts to fight COVID-19 in the classroom.

A letter sent Thursday by Gov. Brian Kemp and DPH Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey says educators and school staff who are exposed to COVID-19 can return to work, regardless of their vaccination status or when they were exposed “if their employer deems it necessary to ensure adequate staffing.”

  • Teachers and other school employees who return to work will have to remain asymptomatic, wear a mask and comply with other quarantine requirements.

Why it matters: Teacher and staff absences due to COVID-19 quarantine or isolation guidelines can impact school districts’ ability to keep classrooms open for in-person learning.

What they’re saying: “Students, parents and educators have made it clear to us that they want to be in the classroom, and we are looking into methods to continue safe, in-person learning,” Kemp and Toomey said.

The letter says that since contact tracing has become challenging for schools due to the latest surge, districts can now consider making contact tracing an “optional service.”

  • Systems will still have to report positive COVID-19 cases to the Department of Public Health.

State of play: Atlanta, Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton county school systems transitioned back to in-person learning today after starting the spring semester with remote learning due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in their communities.

The intrigue: Cobb County schools, the second largest district in the state, will no longer perform contact tracing for all suspected or confirmed COVID cases. Superintendent Chris Ragsdale made the announcement Thursday at a called Board of Education meeting.

  • “This is a great option for school districts,” he said, noting that contact tracing is the “biggest lift” on staff resources.

Ragsdale said there could be instances when the district performs contact tracing but did not provide examples on when it would be done.

Cobb school board chair David Chastain told Axios the contact tracing process has some pitfalls, including some parents being notified of an exposure after the quarantine period lapsed.

  • “It was creating a lot of confusion,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll minimize confusion, but it doesn’t negate the priorities for health and safety.”

The other side: Board member Charisse Davis told Axios she wasn’t surprised to hear that the district will stop blanket contact tracing because it “seems to be following more conservative strategies related to COVID.”

Davis said she’s already received emails from parents criticizing Cobb’s latest decision, which she said is part of the full picture of how the district has addressed COVID-19 in the last two years.

  • “This isn’t a kids in school versus kids not in school debate,” she said. “It’s about how we make school the safest place for our kids and our staff.”

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