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Legislation rulings affect local schools

By Meg Dickens
Staff Writer

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a concern worldwide. Now the Delta variant has many people growing more fearful as what seemed to be a lull in the pandemic appears to be more of the eye of the storm. Most groups are continuing as usual, with a new normal focused on increased cleanliness and normalized social distancing. Johnson County Schools will be returning to school on August 10 with this type of plan and in the absence of a paid COVID-19 leave program.

Because of circumstances like sickness and quarantine, organizations and government entities allowed qualified, paid time off through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which expired at the end of 2020. Local organizations extended benefits through internal funding through May 2021, but Johnson County Schools has not renewed this as school goes back into session for the 2021-2022 school year. That means quarantine will either be unpaid or come from the person’s stockpiled sick days. The 2021 Opening Plan, released on Thursday, July 29, states this specifically.

One chief specification to make is that Johnson County Schools specifies these quarantine rules for unvaccinated employees. The newest plan does not mention quarantine for the vaccinated. This is likely because experts such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) are not suggesting quarantine for exposed, vaccinated people. As of July 27, the CDC recommends testing three to five days after exposure and wearing a mask for 14 days indoors or until receiving negative test results. The Johnson County School Board did receive handouts to review with guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC.

“It is important to note that this is all subject to change if state and or federal requirements mandate certain changes,” reminded Director of Schools Mischelle Simcox after explaining the plan to the School Board.

Several of the new rules seem to have basis in updated laws or court cases. For example, Johnson County Schools recommends that students and teachers receive vaccinations but is not enforcing it. According to House Bill 13, Tennessee Code Annotated 68-5-1 makes it so no one can be forced to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Those interested in the exact wording for this bill can view it here.

Masks will not be required, but teachers will reportedly wear them on parent request during parent-teacher meetings. According to information passed down by the Williamson County Chancery Court case Citizens versus Golden, “requirements for face coverings in schools have no basis in state law.”

The Johnson County School Board discussed the rules without delving into personal opinions on the matter; so specific viewpoints are unclear at this time. View board meetings live or through archives on the Johnson County Schools TN Video YouTube channel. To view details of the opening plan, view the release here.