At a news briefing on February 25, 2020, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control, indicated it was not a matter of “if” but “when” an outbreak of the coronavirus, that has been plaguing China and other parts of the world, will begin to spread in the United States. Already, many school districts have faced questions from concerned parents and staff regarding students and employees who may have traveled to areas where the coronavirus is more prevalent. Given this, what can public schools do in the face of this potential outbreak.
Students cannot be excluded from school or school activities based upon recent travel, or their race or country of origin. As of February 2, 2020, a federal proclamation ordered screening protocols to be put in place for individuals traveling into the United States from China at certain airports, including the international airports servicing New York City. Based upon screening, an individual may be compelled by a local health department to be quarantined. Without such order to be quarantined, the individual can return to work, and, in the case of students, must be allowed to attend schools. Any quarantine order is to be sent directly to the school of the student.
If a school does have a student who has traveled in the last 14 days to an area where the coronavirus is prevalent, as defined by the CDC, and the student develops respiratory symptoms, such as a cough, the school should advise the parents/guardians to immediately call the county health department. New York State Education Law §906(1) contains a provision regarding a bar to attendance by students who have symptoms of a communicable or infectious disease that is reportable under the New York State Public Health Law which poses a significant risk of infections to others. On February 1, 2020, New York State added the 2019-Novel Coronavirus to the list of communicable diseases that would trigger the exclusion. Again, a student would need to have traveled to a CDC designated area in the past 14 days and then show signs of symptoms for the exclusion to be considered. If a student is excluded, a school has the obligation to provide home instruction. In the case of a student with an infectious disease, this can be done by sending work home electronically or by mail. Click HERE to find New York State’s information on the coronavirus.