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A recent state directed health measure that allows school employees to continue working if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 won’t be used in Norfolk Public Schools, except for special circumstances. 

Usually the district can’t maintain all of the new guideline requirements, which protect exposed employees’ safety, said Jami Jo Thompson, superintendent.

The guideline that went into effect earlier this month allows teachers and other school personnel to continue to work rather than self-quarantine if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19, as long as they follow strict requirements and don’t develop symptoms.

To stay at the school, those employees have to wear a face mask for 14 days after the exposure, practice social distancing and self-monitor for symptoms twice a day for 14 days.

“The (DHM) change was intended to help schools stay open by keeping our staff at work,” Thompson said. “That definitely could help us with our substitute shortage, but we are moving forward very cautiously because we want to make sure that we maintain the health and safety of all of our students and staff.”

When NPS passed its fall operation plan, administrators noted that 100% social distancing is impossible in school buildings. Because of this, the district will be sticking with its same policy of requiring exposed employees to quarantine for 14 days, Thompson said.

The only new exception to the current policy is if an exposed staff member can submit a written plan to the district ensuring they can accomplish all three DHM requirements. Although Thompson doesn’t anticipate this happening often, there are some positions that are more isolated, she said.

Matthew Blomstedt, Nebraska Department of Education commissioner, explained the reasoning behind the new DHM in a recent press conference hosted by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

“The current restrictions around quarantine are putting some schools in a situation where they may have a harder time to maintain their teacher workforce or other workforce,” Blomstedt said. “We’re really trying to balance that.”

The pandemic has strained district staffing, especially with substitute employees, Thompson said.

NPS has been experiencing a substitute shortage for several years, but it’s become more severe with COVID-19, as many have said they can’t work until after the pandemic, Thompson said. The district still has several unfilled substitute positions.

Quarantined teachers can’t work from home, Thompson said.

If teachers are absent, their classes can be covered by another teacher during plan periods. NPS also is looking at using specials teachers to instruct core classes or utilizing district employees.

If the district doesn’t have enough staff members, it will be forced to transition to either its COVID-19 hybrid instruction or remote learning scenarios, Thompson said.

“We know we will have to be very flexible this year and very creative in trying to find ways to meet our staffing needs,” Thompson said. “So we’re trying to look at every option available to us because we want to keep our schools open if we’re able to, but we also want to make sure we can do that safely.”

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