November 12: Information for Our TCSS Community on COVID-19 & Our Schools

  • November 12, 2020

    From the Office of the Superintendent

    To Our TCSS Community,

    We want share several important items with you regarding our schools and COVID-19.

    ---TCSS continues to compile and share data regarding COVID-19 and its impact on our schools. As we have been doing since September 3, a new update is posted to our TCSS web site every two weeks. The latest update is available from the home page of our site. The latest update also includes links to all previous COVID-19 updates.

    ---If there is a need to share a COVID-19 update with an individual school or school community, outside of the regular biweekly system update, TCSS will provide an additional update. For instance, the Hillcrest High and Tuscaloosa County High School communities have recently received additional updates, due to rises in the numbers of confirmed positive cases and students determined to be close contacts of positive cases at those schools.

    ---The Alabama State Department of Education is now publishing COVID-19 data from school systems across Alabama. While this online dashboard provides an additional source for COVID-19 data, we encourage our TCSS community also to continue referring to the COVID-19 updates we share every two weeks. Our updates provide a much greater level of detail, with respect to what is happening in our school system. It is also important to remember that the state dashboard provides a raw number of total cases. TCSS is the ninth-largest school system in our state, with nearly 19,000 students, and approximately 84 percent of those students attending school on campus. Some school systems in our state have less than a thousand students in an entire system. There also may be differences in how individual school systems collect and report their COVID-19 case data. For many reasons, it is difficult to compare one system against another, when looking at this data. You may have seen news headlines this week stating that TCSS has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state. One raw number simply does not provide the full context, in a very complex situation. That being said, the rise in COVID-19 cases in our community does have us on alert, and as we published in our November 10 COVID-19 update, your help in reducing the spread is of critical importance.

    ---We have many schools with a high percentage of students attending on-campus school, with few or no confirmed COVID-19 cases within the school population. We also continue to receive parent/guardian information indicating to us that the majority of student COVID-19 cases are being contracted outside of school. We are encouraged that our social distancing measures and cleaning practices are effective in reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission within our schools.

    ---Due to ADPH guidelines regarding quarantine, we currently have greater numbers of employee absences. On top of that, some regular substitutes are unavailable due to the COVID-19 situation. We are in great need of substitute teachers. If you or anyone you know would be a candidate for substitute teaching, this is one of the best ways you could support our schools during this time. Learn more about becoming a substitute in this section of our web site.

    ---As you may be aware, the COVID-19 situation has recently caused some schools in our state to alter their schedules or shift to remote learning. At this time, we have no plans to shift to remote learning. At any point in this year, if a situation arises that causes us to alter our schedule or shift to remote learning, either at the system level or school level, we would communicate that to our TCSS community as immediately as possible. As we have stated since the beginning of school, it is our goal to keep our schools open for in-person learning.

    ---When a student is identified as a close contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case in our schools, the student and their parent/guardian will receive a letter. There is a statement in the letter that reads:

        “If your child tests negative for COVID-19 during their quarantine, and has a release from their medical provider, he/she may return to school if the release clearly states that along with the negative test, the medical provider is aware of the   possible exposure and has cleared the student to return to school.”

         It is our intention and expectation that students who are determined by our schools to be close contacts of a COVID-19 case will follow Alabama Department of Public Health guidelines and quarantine for 14 days. The statement above references an instance where there may be HIPPA-protected information, between a student and their medical provider, that the school is not aware of, but would allow them to return to school before the 14-day quarantine period ends. An instance such as this may exist, but would be rare. The purpose of the statement in the letter is to let a student and their parent/guardian know that a negative COVID-19 test alone, even accompanied by a doctor’s release, will not allow a student to return to school prior to the end of their quarantine period. The release from the physician must state that the physician is also aware of the possible exposure, and is still clearing them to return to school, before the ADPH-recommended quarantine period has ended. Again, a situation like this should be rare, but TCSS has been advised by the Alabama State Department of Education that our school nurses should accept a physician’s release in this instance. We are also aware that ADPH recently shared a reminder with the medical community, stressing the importance of isolation and quarantine guidelines.

    As we move into the holiday season, we ask our TCSS community to please be extremely mindful of the practices health experts say are effective in fighting COVID-19. We also ask you to monitor official TCSS information channels for updated information. As challenging as this situation is, we do believe we will come out of this time stronger and better prepared to overcome adversity.