Update: The US Supreme Court ruled Thursday to block the Biden Administration vaccination or testing requirement for employers with more than 100 employees, which would have impacted the school division, but upheld the requirement for health care workers.
The Pittsylvania County School Board addressed updates on COVID-19 guidelines at its first meeting of the year on Jan. 11.
The updates are based on the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the Virginia Department of Health, according to Superintendent Mark Jones.
“For isolation, five days at home. If symptoms are improving, and if not having a fever or using fever-reducing medications, then return with proper fitting mask for the additional five days. The individual will practice strict mitigating measures. If the individual is unable to consistently and correctly wear a mask, then they would have to stay home for 10 days," said Jones.
For quarantine, Jones states, “If vaccinated, as defined by the VDH, have the appropriate both shots and the appropriate booster, zero days. If unvaccinated, five days at home from the last day of exposure then return with a proper fitting mask for an additional five days and the individual will practice strict mitigation strategies.”
Jones requested a vote be done to transition into the new protocols immediately with a full transition by next Tuesday, Jan. 18.
Newly-appointed chairman Calvin Doss reminded the audience that the mask mandate is still in place. Doss said it could change with the governor and the impending Supreme Court decision on vaccine and testing mandates, but until that happens, masks will be worn at all times.
Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin will be sworn into office on Saturday, Jan. 15.
Jones also touched on the decision now before the US Supreme Court and how that may impact teachers and staff.
“Regarding COVID, I know I have received quite a few phone calls and texts regarding the letter that went out asking if you were vaccinated or not. I have dug and dug in the OSHA regulations that the Supreme Court is making a decision and I have not been able to find any exemption anything that talks about any exemption in it. Only thing I have been able to find in the emergency order that OSHA is trying to implement is two things: either you’re vaccinated or you’re not vaccinated. If you’re not vaccinated, you will be tested weekly and that’s all I can find. I know some companies have opted to do different on vaccinations, but I don’t believe Pittsylvania County schools is going to fire anybody whether they’re vaccinated or not. I don’t think anybody sitting here has the intent to do that, and that was some of the calls I got was whether they were going to lose their job if they were not vaccinated. I’ve never heard that mentioned at all to me or this board, so right now, the answer to that is no unless the government changes the rules. We certainly won’t.
He continues, “I know there’s a lot of teachers probably watching tonight that are nervous about it. We just need to know if the Supreme Court comes back and says “You need to be tested if you are not vaccinated.” then we need to know that so we can put plans in place. We got until Feb. 9 to do that. So, please let your principals know we’re not trying to single out anybody or make it hard on anybody. You can have an exemption if you want one, but if you’re not vaccinated, you’re still going to get tested regardless. I hope that will clear it up a little bit and put some people at ease. We just need to know so we can get an accurate count, so we know how would have to be tested if that comes to be. Let’s hope the Supreme Court at least puts a stay on it or drops it altogether, but it’s up to the courts. It’s not up to us.”
During public comments, Gretna High School teacher Valerie Parker elaborated on a memo needing to present vaccination status to the central office by Jan. 10.
Parker said she hopes the school board will accept all exemptions, including natural immunity for those who have had the disease, if the mandates are upheld in the courts and exemptions are required.
"To not accept all exemptions will put an undo financial and emotional hardship on all of the employees. It will provide hardships at classrooms, busses and other areas become overpopulated," said Parker.
She continued with potential testing, “If mandates are upheld and testing is required, I hope that all employees will be treated equally regardless of their vaccination status. Studies have shown the vaccinated can still transmit this virus to the unvaccinated and vise versa.”
She then hopes Pittsylvania County schools will cover the costs of the testing since it would become a requirement for employment if mandates are upheld and testing will be performed at the work site for convenience for all.
After she finished, Doss said he has been looking for any hints of whatever the ruling might be, but as of Tuesday, they have not made a ruling.
“I hope and I pray that they will rule to not enforce it, but it is not yet to be seen,” said Doss.
In other business, Dr. Jessica Jones gave her welcome to the Rev. Raymond Ramsay, who was elected vice-chairman, and Kelly Merricks. It was Merricks’ first meeting with the board.
Alette Keggereis, a student representative from Chatham High School, gave the character word of the month: responsibility.
“As we enter 2022, I’m sure you all have a plethora of resolutions after a tumultuous 2021. My resolution was to keep a room clean, keeping my room clean was not my big ticket resolution, I am also committed to being more responsible.”
Keggereis would explain responsibility is the marriage of mindfulness and accountability. “While it may feel like a chore, being responsible would make your life a lot easier,” she said.
Before closing, Doss gave his thanks to J. Samuel Burton for serving as chairman for the last two years, navigating through all the challenges everyone had to go through.
“I thank them for all the hard work, and I thank him for his service,” Doss said.