KNOX - With 18 days of in-school instruction in the books, Keystone School District is already dealing with a state Department of Health-mandated COVID-19 quarantine, however, that order is based on a student who tested negative for the coronavirus.

"We do not have a positive case of COVID-19," Keystone School District Superintendent Shawn Algoe told school board members and about 35 people in the meeting audience.

"The (state) Department of Health has deviated from its original plans for people who come in close contact with a positive case (of COVID-19)," explained Algoe. "The school district does not have the authority to over-ride the Department of Health's order to quarantine."

The situation apparently came about after a student reported possible close contact with another individual (outside of school) who had tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The student was tested for COVID-19 and those tests came back negative, however, the department of health ordered contact tracing for the student and a quarantine for students with whom that student had contact.

Algoe said the contact tracing actually caused more rumors and questions.

"The contact tracing done by call centers with contacted callers who aren't with the department of health, have helped to put out a tremendous amount of erroneous information," said Algoe. "They (contact tracers) are telling people their students were in contact with a student with COVID-19 and that's not true.

"We have not had a positive case of COVID-19. But apparently, regardless of actual test results, you will be quarantined if the department of health says so.

"It doesn't make sense, I know. But (the school district and its administrators) don't have the luxury of having an opinion in the matter. We have no recourse but to follow the department of health's directive to quarantine."

Spectator limits

The board meeting occurred just about two hours after Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed a bill that would have allowed school districts to set their own limits on the number of people attending school extra-circular activities.

That action followed a ruling by a federal appeals court that said Wolf's limits on public gatherings is unconstitutional. Wolf is appealing that ruling.

Algoe noted he had prepared a policy for allowing increased numbers of spectators at events, but explained that policy will depend on further directives from the Department of Education and the Department of Health.

"And, frankly, it also depends on our insurance company," acknowledged Algoe. "It has been recommended to us to stay within the limits in place right now. School districts have not been promised safe harbor from opportunistic lawsuits possibly six- or seven-figure lawsuits.

"Our insurance carrier has made it very clear we should not deviate from the recommended limits. Some school districts have done so and I can't speak for them.

"When our insurance carries tells us we would not be covered, there's really nothing to be discussed beyond that."

Algoe said he understands parents and students, families, teachers and many others are frustrated by the ongoing and sometimes confusing directives the district has to follow.

"Again, we don't have the luxury of having our own opinion," said Algoe. "Our job is to keep the school open for our students and our community."

Show of support

In the past few weeks leading up to the Sept. 21 board meeting, one social media page encouraged opponents of mandatory face masks and district policies to attend the meeting and speak out.

Numerous people wrote they intended to attend the session and voice their opposition.

In the end however, only two people asked to be on the meeting agenda to address the board and only one of those people actually attended the meeting.

More than 30 teachers and other district employees did attend the meeting in support of the district administrators and the school board.

Jim Lyle, one of the people who asked to be on the agenda's public participation list, expressed his support and gratitude to district employees and the school board for the COVID-19 policies.

Lyle said the policies and the students' adherence to those polices, are "valuable in teaching our children civic mindedness."

School board president John Slagle thanked all of the teachers who attended the meeting.

"Thank you for being here, thank you for what you do every day," Slagle said. "You've all gone above and beyond what you ever thought the case would be and we're all in a better place because of it."

Algoe also noted the work of school nurses, custodians, secretaries and bus drivers.

"I know what I've put up with from some people, some of it quite vile and rude," said Algoe. "All of our staff has been under a lot of pressure and they've all done a great job in handling everything we've faced."

Everyone attending the meeting wore facemasks for the duration of the meeting.

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