Vaccinations, Masking: What To Know As Kids Head Back To Classrooms

Vaccinations, Masking: What To Know As Kids Head Back To Classrooms

3:43pm Aug 17, 2021
A teacher in a Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools elementary classroom presents a lesson to students both in-person and remote. KERI BROWN/WFDD

Schools across the state are holding open houses and preparing to welcome back students this month. This comes as COVID-19 cases are rising.

WFDD’s April Laissle spoke with reporter Keri Brown to break down some important information about how districts plan to keep kids safe, vaccinations, and more.

Interview Highlights

Are districts tracking which employees and students are vaccinated and who is not?

Many districts, including Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools say they’re not tracking teacher COVID-19 vaccination data because the shots are not required for employment. As for students, school systems can ask families to fill out voluntary documentation of COVID-19 vaccination status for their child, but it’s not required under state guidelines for parents to submit that information.

What rights do parents/families have to know a teacher’s vaccination status?

It’s not illegal to ask an educator if they are vaccinated for COVID. It’s not considered a HIPAA violation. This can be an uncomfortable conversation, but parents can absolutely make the ask.

Again, it’s not required for employment in public schools in North Carolina. A teacher doesn’t have to disclose their vaccination status. Experts say one way to approach the subject is to begin the conversation with your own vaccination status and your thoughts around it.

What if a parent is uncomfortable with the answer?

It’s important to remember that people may not get vaccinated for a variety of reasons. It could be a medical condition, even religious reasons, and that should be respected.

It’s another reason why health experts recommend masking in conjunction with vaccinations, or using a “layered approach” whenever possible. They say wearing a mask is effective in reducing the spread of COVID and that can help keep case counts from getting out of control.

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, employers can’t release medical information about an employee publicly, so a district can’t disclose a teacher’s vaccination status to you, but you can still ask them directly.

Is the district developing strategies to make vaccine access easier for families?

Local school districts say they are in constant contact with their county health departments about COVID data and about hosting these vaccine events. They provide the space and the health department or other vaccine providers run the clinics. Local school officials say parents would have to consent for their child to be vaccinated at a site on campus. As of now, there is no COVID vaccine authorized yet for children under age 12.

What can we expect as far as masking in schools?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends masks for students, staff and teachers regardless of vaccination status. This also applies on buses and other school transportation. In North Carolina, the state Department of Health and Human Services also lays out those guidelines in its StrongSchoolsNC Public Health Tool Kit.

Local school boards are weighing this information and their decisions vary across the state. For example, in districts like Wilkes, Rockingham, Stokes and Yadkin counties masks are optional for students and staff.

In some of the larger urban districts masks are required. This includes Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and Guilford County Schools. In addition, GCS is also planning to require weekly COVID testing for unvaccinated student athletes and some other activities including marching band.

What happens if a student is exposed to COVID-19?

Quarantines will depend on certain circumstances. If you test positive, you should stay at home. But there are some changes since last school year. In some scenarios, no quarantine will be required. For example, the state toolkit guidelines say students exposed to the coronavirus don’t have to quarantine if both of them were wearing facemasks properly and following other prevention strategies like physical distancing. Also, if an exposed person is fully vaccinated and has no symptoms, they don’t have to quarantine.

Many districts say they will also continue contact tracing, and they are tapping into federal COVID relief funding to hire additional nurses and staff as students return. Local health departments can also implement isolation and quarantine orders.

Are there any other safety tips or suggestions regarding COVID as a full school year approaches and eyes are on an increase in cases in the community?

We never know what can come down the road and state guidelines and local school board policies can change quickly. I would recommend staying in close contact with your child’s teacher and following district communications as closely as possible. Schools are trying to play catch up with students who struggled during remote learning and the goal is to keep classrooms open. WFDD will continue to bring you the latest education updates.

*Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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