ATLANTA – New guidance from President Donald Trump’s administration that declares teachers to be “critical infrastructure workers” could give the green light to exempting teachers from quarantine requirements after being exposed to COVID-19 and instead send them back into the classroom.
Keeping teachers without symptoms in the classroom, as a handful of school districts in Tennessee and Georgia have already said they may do, raises the risk that they will spread the respiratory illness to students and fellow employees. Multiple teachers can be required by public health agencies to quarantine for 14 days during an outbreak, which can stretch a district's ability to keep providing in-person instruction.
‘Critical infrastructure workers'
South Carolina health officials also describe teachers as critical infrastructure workers, although it's unclear if any district there is asking teachers to return before 14 days.
Among the first districts to name teachers as critical infrastructure workers was eastern Tennessee’s Greene County, where the school board gave the designation to teachers July 13.
“It essentially means if we are exposed and we know we might potentially be positive, we still have to come to school and we might, at that point, be carriers and spreaders,” said Hillary Buckner, who teaches Spanish at Chuckey-Doak High School in Afton.
Buckner, secretary of the county-level affiliate of the National Education Association, said it’s unethical for teachers to risk infecting students. Only prekindergarten and kindergarten students are currently attending class face-to-face in 7,500-student Greene County, going two days a week for two-and-a-half hours a day. Teachers are instructing others online from their classrooms, Buckner said, but the local school board could soon mandate a broader in-person return.