UPDATE: The Albany School District Board of Education voted 4-3 to shorten its quarantine period for people who have “close contact” with COVID-19-infected people from 10 days to seven to allow a cross country athlete to run in this weekend’s sectional meet.
The Albany School District Board of Education will hold a special meeting at 7 pm tonight to revisit the district’s COVID quarantine policy, apparently to specifically consider shortening the quarantine period to allow a member of the cross country team to end his quarantine tomorrow and compete in this weekend’s sectional meet, which Albany is hosting Saturday.
The district administrator, athletic director and school nurse all oppose the change.
The district began the school year with no masking or vaccine requirement, but have recently begun requiring masks after a rise in positive cases among students. School board president Steve Elliott said he believes about five of the district’s 310 students have tested positive, though not all of those cases were contracted at school.
Additionally, district policy calls for any unvaccinated student who has “close contact” with an infected person must quarantine for 14 days, or 10 days if they wear a mask during the remainder of the quarantine period. Students are not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities during the quarantine period.
One of the cases at the school caused a number of high school students to quarantine, beginning October 15, meaning they could return to school this coming Monday, October 25, but would miss any athletic activities over this weekend. Multiple sources indicated that one of those students quarantined is a runner on the cross country team.
All Albany students, 4k through 12th grade, attend school in the same building.
On October 15, board Vice President Sherri Seitz emailed the board asking to add a reconsideration of COVID policies to the agenda for its upcoming October 25 meeting, to make quarantine requirements more stringent, especially for students who have been in close contact with multiple infected people, even when vaccinated.
“We need to consider quarantining repeated exposure students. This means if someone in the household test positive and the student whether vaccinated or not resides in that home and cannot seperate (sic) from the positive person, the then said student must remain at home in quarantine unless a negative test is produced,” she wrote in an email to the board obtained through an open records request. “I think it is very neglect(ful) as a school to have allowed a student to come to school for the past week knowing she was in a repeated exposure situation. Having a vaccination should not be a considered a ‘free pass’.”
However, on October 19, she again wrote to the board, asking for a “quick meeting” because, she wrote, “Currently we have athletes out who are quarantined because they are not vaccinated. At this point, the WIAA suggest said student would test on day 5 (preferred) and allowed to participate on day 7 if a negative test result and zero symptoms. I think we should update our policy to reflect this.”
The special meeting was scheduled for 7 pm tonight with COVID policy as the only agenda item. The agenda also states there will be no public comment.
Elliott said the timing of the special meeting makes the purpose of the proposed change clear.
“Is it reasonable to assume that (the timing) might have something to do with the fact that a runner who is likely to score on our cross country team is affected by the quarantine procedures? Yes,” he said. “We have a special meeting already scheduled for Monday where we could have discussed this policy, and intended to discuss this policy. The request to meet this week probably has something to do with the fact that state sectional cross country is on Saturday.”
In an email to board members obtained through an open records request, Athletic Director Derik Doescher said WIAA, the governing body for interscholastic sports, does not offer guidelines for individual school districts.
“The correct terminology is that they ALLOW shortened quarantines with steps and procedures in place to do so,” he wrote. “It has never been SUGGESTED or RECOMMENDED on behalf of the WIAA for districts to go to shortened quarantines. In fact, the WIAA, over and over, will tell you that it is up to local control and guidance” (emphasis in original).
He also said it seemed unfair to revisit the policy for a single athlete.
“We have had athletes in the last year and a half have to miss practices and events due to COVID. Obviously it isn’t ideal, & it is very unfortunate,” he wrote. “What makes this situation different? Doesn’t an emergency meeting look a little suspicious to any athletes that have had to miss things from the past on why we weren’t having a special emergency board meeting for them?”
Superintendent William Trow, in an email obtained through a public records request, wrote that a change in policy now would mean “we are making a change because of a sport not because of what is best practice” and could indicate that “we care more about one sport than other sports.”
“The timing of this with cases in the district being up is not a great optic for the district,” he wrote.
School nurse Lacey Lightly also opposes the change.
“if we change policies at this point in time during an actual outbreak of COVID infection (received this news of another positive case at 9:03 AM on 10/20/2021 & that Albany has officially been considered as having an outbreak), we are making exceptions for certain individuals versus doing what is best for everyone in the district,” (emphasis in original) she wrote in an email obtained through an open records request.
Cross country teams from 20 area schools are set to run at Albany on Saturday for a chance to go to the state meet in Wisconsin Rapids.