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Rutherford County Parents Furious Over Mishandling of Covid in Schools

On August 10, 2021 the Rutherford County Board of Education reviewed and approved a procedure intended to prevent students and staff from being quarantined who were Covid free or symptom free. Despite this clear intent, the Director of Schools for Rutherford County Schools (RCS) unilaterally changed this procedure (both procedures can be found here) to remove non-symptomatic and non-Covid positive students from schools–with no input, consultation, or vote from the Board. The legality of RCS moving forward with these procedures is questionable, but the result is not.

Rutherford Students First has received disturbing reports from parents all over the county that huge numbers of students are out of school due to this decision, in addition to reports of widespread abuse and arbitrary application of the quarantine procedure that are likely illegal, lack specificity, lack any documented process, or any possibility for transparency or duplication.

Reported directly from parents and RCS staff, some shocking examples of these failed procedures can be found below.

The result of this flawed procedure has been half full classrooms, closed schools, and rampant and arbitrary mistakes. This was both predictable and unavoidable.

Based on the failure of the previous school year, evident in the test scores that plummeted, we know what this procedure will mean to our children’s education. They will fall even further behind, and yet another school year will end in catastrophic failure.

We call on the Board to end the current contact tracing policy immediately. School only contact tracing is essentially pointless in a community where no form of contact tracing or risk mitigation is being widely practiced. The school is not an island separate from the community. It is part of a vibrant community filled with friends, family, neighbors, fellowship, events, sports, clubs, activities, performances, restaurants, churches, and an endless list of wonderful human interactions, most of which do not practice mitigation measures of any kind. Shy of contact tracing and mitigation measures being applied to all these places, it is impossible for any contact tracing performed only at the school level to be effective.

But if the Board should move forward with any kind of staff or student removal from school, the focus should be on Covid positive and symptomatic individuals. The Board must establish clear and transparent decision making criteria and metrics for Covid related policies moving forward which are consistent with Tennessee law specific to an LEA’s ability to respond to communicable diseases.

As things stand, the decision making is arbitrary, inconsistent and not rooted in any verifiable and duplicatable process. Because there is no consistency in the process, efficacy of the current procedures is non-existent while abuse of those procedures is far too easy.

Moving forward, RCS needs a procedure which is transparent and duplicable. This procedure should include:
1. Proof of a Covid positive test or symptoms.
– Confirmation of positive Covid test from a health department or healthcare provider, or
– Confirmation of symptoms from school nurse, health department, or healthcare provider
2. Should any contact tracing move forward (which we do not wish), consistent with state law, at bare minimum contact tracing should be administered by the Tennessee Department of Health through a published methodology all can follow. If the Tennessee Department of Health can’t perform this function, a contracted vendor capable of proper contact tracing on behalf of the Tennessee Department of Health, should follow the same methodology.
3. Strict protection of a student’s healthcare information.

We are simply asking that RCS operate within the boundaries of the law and with a consistent and verifiable process.

List of Parent and RCS Staff Reported Incidents

Important note: some of these procedures are unquestionably breaking Tennessee law by denying healthy, school age children access to education. Healthy kids are forced to be at home with no access to instruction of any kind. Without a full school closure or verification of a communicable disease, this is illegal.

  • A student was contact traced at an RCS high school. Along with that student, approximately 40 students were pulled into the library by the Assistant Principal and asked to form two lines, one of the vaccinated and one of the unvaccinated. The staff then handed the students, who claimed to be vaccinated, a piece of paper to email proof. Without question, the school can’t segment kids into groups and publicly disclose their health information. This is problematic in every possible way.
  • Parents have reported that for the students being contact traced, online tools are not working and there are widespread tech issues. This means non-symptomatic, non-Covid positive students at home have no access to classroom instruction or assignments for days on end.
  • The most common report from parents is that there is no consistency in how students are contact traced at any school. The method could be as simple as a teacher believes two students were close enough together, but there is no documentation or process required to follow. The current lack of methodology or tracking of any kind means schools have no idea who is with who, where or when. Clubs and sports are not tracked at all. No one is watched in hallways or any common area. Quite often one student is pulled for being contact traced, but not others on the other side of the same supposedly Covid positive student. And of course, there is zero tracking or tracing when students leave school to do a variety of activities off school property, possibly even being at home with a Covid positive family member who isn’t a student.
  • Parents are reporting school closures due to lack of staff. Most of the staff are neither symptomatic nor Covid positive, just contact traced so the new procedure requires quarantine.
  • For staff that remain in school, teachers are reporting that they have been asked to cover multiple classes beyond their own, so classroom instruction and work is extremely limited for all students. Many parents have reported their kids are doing nothing at school right now, because they don’t have a teacher.
  • School level administrators and office staff have reported that they are so backed up from the sudden change in policy and sudden staffing issues, they are notifying parents of a contact traced exposure and need to quarantine AFTER the 7 day quarantine period is finished, defeating any theoretical benefit from such a policy and actually increasing potential exposure to other students.
  • Because of this same administrative backup, parents have reported that while at school their students are delivering notices of being contact traced to other students. This is not appropriate, and if contact tracing mattered–RCS is willingly exposing the student to dozens of potentially Covid positive students.
  • Parents have reported that students are taking advantage of the lack of process or verification by saying they are Covid positive or exposed just to get out of school with their friends. No one is verifying anything because there is absolutely no process in place.

RCS contact tracing is a complete failure in every imaginable way. Even if there is potential benefit of school based contact tracing, it’s clear that the current situation will not accomplish anything but put our kids further behind.

This mess is the inevitable, rule breaking outcome of poorly written and possibly illegal procedures. Quarantined students don’t have access to learning, and with teachers being removed from schools in large numbers–the instruction is well below optimal levels. This will result in significant loss of learning and yet another year of terrible educational outcomes.

Teachers are not responsible for these problems, and the Board did not vote on these procedures. But with this information known, the Board now has an immediate responsibility to intervene.

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