Union R-XI

Some of the people who successfully lobbied against face mask requirements in Union R-XI schools are now taking aim at COVID-19-related quarantines.

So far in the 2021-22 school year, 536 students have been in quarantine in Union schools, just under 18 percent of the student population, as of Sept. 15, said Dr. Justin Tarte, executive director of human resources for the Union R-XI School District.

Although district officials have said the Franklin County Health Department requires the district to quarantine students who come in close contact with someone who is positive for COVID-19, some at last Wednesday’s board of education meeting argued that the health department can’t tell schools what to do.

Frank Rice, of Union, one of four members to speak during the public comment period at the start of the meeting, said he is able to take care of his grandchildren should they need to be out of school, but not every family can do that.

“That’s what I consider overreach of the quarantine system,” he said. “Contact tracing puts healthy children in unhealthy environments devoid of normal, healthy play and interaction so needed for stable, emotional growth.”

Rice questioned keeping kids out of school at a time they can develop “natural lifelong immunity.”

Doctors warn against intentionally exposing children to COVID-19 or any virus. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, it is unclear how long COVID-19 infection protects against reinfection, and even if a person does not get seriously ill, the long-term effects of having the virus are still not fully understood.

Board President Dr. Virgil Weideman told the speakers he understands where they are coming from. “I think you’d be surprised how much of what was said we probably totally agree with,” he said. “We’re not here to discuss that issue, but we are hearing what you say.”

The board did approve a COVID-19-related leave policy for staff that gives up to 10 paid days off to full-time employees who are not able to work at school or remotely because of COVID-19. Tarte said it was similar to the policy for the second semester of the 2020-21 school year.

The leave expires Dec. 31, 2021, and staff will not be compensated for unused days. The superintendent has the right to deny COVID leave to employees who do not follow quarantine rules or policies on social distancing and sanitizing while they are at work.

Union R-XI has had 13 staff members miss time because of COVID-19-related absences, with four of them out on Sept. 15, Tarte told the board.

“We’re actually pretty happy with those numbers,” he said. “Those numbers are pretty manageable considering some of the instances that we dealt with last year.”

The district has around 400 employees, said Dr. Steve Weinhold, who was attending his final meeting before retiring as superintendent at the end of September. “That’s not very many for the 400 people that we employ.”