GEORGIA -- The Professional Association of Georgia Educators sent a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp saying that, while educators want to return to the classroom, the health of all need to be top priority.
The group's executive director Craig Harper wrote the letter to Kemp on Wednesday in response to the governor's request for input on the pending decision whether to designate Georgia educators as essential workers.
"While acknowledging that public schools are essential, and teachers are public servants who play a critical role in their communities, we know that protecting the health and safety of students and staff to stop the spread of COVID-19 is the most essential role of all," Harper wrote. "We respectfully request that you consider as the first priority whether allowing educators to continue to work without safeguards following a known exposure to COVID-19 is the right thing for our schools and communities as we fight to stop the spread of coronavirus. All of us would prefer that schools could open, stay open, and return to their place as a vital center of community life. However, ignoring the high probability of continued community spread through elimination of quarantine protocols ensures prolonged health and safety issues for all Georgians."
The group provided recommendations that acknowledge differing perspectives on how to respond to COVID-19 and opening schools.
"These measures would allow a more efficient re-entry to work after exposure without sacrificing all protections for those who are exposed and who then might expose others," Harper said. "A number of school districts have already begun operating with similar practices for quarantine, opt-out provisions, and appropriate administrative leave accommodations for staff. Your leadership in providing consistent direction to districts in support of safety for students and staff is critical."
The recommendations say that, "whether through executive order, public health guidance, or local action, if leaders do consider changes to educator critical infrastructure status, thus eliminating quarantine requirements, policymakers should also consider enacting the following safety protocols, designed to protect the health of students, educators, their families and all within their communities."
If local school districts are given authority to designate school staff as essential workers or critical infrastructure, individual educators should retain the ability to opt-out of reclassification. Thus, after any documented close contactwith COVID-19, educators who opt-out will quarantine for 14 days, per current DPH guidelines. Educators couldcontinue to contribute through virtual work as their condition and assignment allows.
Educators designated as having critical infrastructure status, who do NOT opt out and who have documented close contact with a diagnosed case of COVID-19 shall either:
Quarantine for three days and thereafter adhere to CDC work safety guidelines applying to all other critical infrastructure employees
Undergo a risk-based approach to testing similar to the CDC testing strategies for COVID-19 in the high density critical infrastructure workplaces i.e., rapid daily testing
A compensated emergency COVID-19 -administrative leave policy should be created for educators who have contracted COVID-19 or are exposed to COVID-19 through a work related contact and must quarantine. This paidleave type would continue only for the purpose of and the duration of an executive order. Such leave:
Would not apply unless contact tracing demonstrates an employee contracted the virus at school or was exposed at school or in the performance of duties assigned by the school, leading directly to the implementation ofquarantine protocols, and
Would not apply unless 80 hours of Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) leave is first exhausted
With state support, local school districts should be required to provide a report detailing positive, suspected, and exposure cases on a regular, defined basis and in a manner consistent with other school districts, statewide.
With the goal of opening Georgia public schools in a manner intended to minimize risk for students and staff, the group said it requests Kemp’s assistance regarding:
Providing rapid tests for school employees who are exposed at school, allowing for greater assurance that abbreviated quarantine protocols adequately protect others from exposure.
Funding for costs associated with implementation of compensated emergency COVID-administrative leave.
Encouraging school districts to grant accommodation for educators with documented high-risk health conditions.
Empowering the Georgia Department of Education’s K-12 Public Health Liaison to work with regional and state public health agencies to ensure adherence to best practices for public health and support virus reporting by local school districts.