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Carroll Schools to continue with mask requirement

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Clarification: The Carroll School Board did not vote on a continued mask requirement but rather discussed the superintendent's recommendation to continue requiring them and agreed to revisit the subject in the future.

The Carroll Community School District will continue requiring masks for students and staff members.

The Carroll School Board tonight discussed continuing the policy, which it instated in November, until changing factors would merit an adjustment.

“Our plan, as it currently is, gives us the best chance to have students in school and able to participate in activities,” Carroll Schools Superintendent Casey Berlau said in a letter to the board outlining his recommendation to continue requiring face coverings for students and staff. “As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will monitor the situation, and if it makes sense to make changes to our plan, we will bring recommendations to the school board for consideration.”

The letter outlined the following levels of quarantined students and positive tests at the school:

— On Nov. 12, the day the mask requirement went into effect, there were 156 students in quarantine, 16 students testing positive for the coronavirus and 10 staff members testing positive.

— On Dec. 1, the first day after Thanksgiving, there were 60 students in quarantine, one student testing positive and three staff members testing positive.

— On Jan. 4, the first day after Christmas break, there were 22 students in quarantine, no students testing positive and two staff members testing positive.

— On Jan. 14, there were 17 students in quarantine, four students testing positive and three staff members testing positive.

Berlau added that as of today, there were nine students in quarantine, one student testing positive, two staff members testing positive and one student in quarantine.

Carroll County’s positivity rate, which compares the number of positive tests to the total number of tests administered in the past two weeks, was 13.5 percent, which is lower than it often has been in the past several months.

“Things are trending the right way, overall, I hope,” Berlau said. “I’m hoping that this spring, it starts to feel like things are fairly normal.”

Key in the decision to continue requiring masks is the fact that, in accordance with statewide rules, students who were in proximity at school with someone who later tested positive don’t also have to quarantine if all were wearing masks. The number of Carroll students required to quarantine dropped dramatically after the implementation of the mask requirement because of this rule.

“It’s great to see a reduction in quarantines,” Carroll School Board President Karen Friedlein said. “I don’t think it’s time to change this; we’ll see how things go.”

Teachers are among the groups of people who soon will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine based on a Carroll County Public Health schedule. Berlau said that the district surveyed its staff members and learned that 67 percent of staff members intend to get the vaccine, 16 percent don’t plan to get it and 17 percent are undecided.

The school district will work with Carroll County Public Health to schedule vaccines for staff members.

The school board also voted on a plan regarding the expiration of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that addressed COVID-19-related leave for district staff members.

Under the new plan approved by the district, any staff members who have days remaining of their paid FFCRA leave, which allocated 10 days per person on top of other leave the staff member has available, can use those days through the end of June.

The leave applies to staff members who are subject to a quarantine or isolation order, have been advised by a health profession to self-quarantine for a concern related to COVID-19, are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are seeking a diagnosis, or are caring for someone else who is quarantining.

Those who have used up the 10 days can use their other paid sick or personal days allocated through the district for COVID-19-related absences.

Berlau noted that absence requirements for teachers who have tested positive for the coronavirus or are exposed to the virus and need to quarantine will remain in place.

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