In last month’s column, I wrote that the rules around who can be at school in-person and when are so complex they could be a whole separate column. And so here we’ve done just that.
The primary source of requirements on school operations during the pandemic for traditional public and public charter schools serving K-12 students is the “COVID-19 Response Toolkit for New Mexico’s Public Schools” issued by the New Mexico Public Education Department or NMPED.
This Toolkit defines a “fully vaccinated” person as one who has had two weeks or more pass since receiving the second dose (or first, if it was a single-dose) of a vaccine and having developed no symptoms.
A student or staff member who is fully vaccinated and has had close contact with a COVID-19 infectious individual can be at school in-person. However, unvaccinated persons who have had this contact are required to quarantine at home for up for 30 days and maybe more in order to return to school in-person.
The Toolkit says a “close contact” occurs when “someone who, over a 24-hour period, has a cumulative exposure of 15 minutes or longer within six feet of a confirmed COVID-19 case with or without a face covering.” An exception to this definition is students in the pre-K through 12 setting, including transportation, “who were within three to six feet of an infected student where both students were engaged in consistent and correct use of well-fitting face masks and other K–12 school prevention strategies (such as universal and correct mask use, physical distancing, increased ventilation) were in place.”
NMPED recently added an exception to the requirement to quarantine in the case of a close contact, called “Test to Stay.” This limited exception applies to persons who have not provided proof of full vaccination and were exposed in the school setting only. It requires that, in order to stay at school in-person, he, she or they be tested at school on the first, third and fifth days the person is at school following the exposure. Negative tests and staying symptom-free mean he, she or they can stay at school. But a positive test or refusal to test will trigger quarantine requirements.
Testing positive, whether in the course of “Test to Stay” or otherwise, requires quarantine for up to 20 days and an improvement in (or lack of) symptoms before being allowed to return to school in-person.
If a person starts to experience symptoms at school, the Toolkit requires that he, she or they be sent home right away to isolate—returning to school in-person only either at the end of 10 days of isolation or, if vaccinated, earlier by providing proof of a negative Polymerase Chain Reaction test.
There are, within each of the categories discussed, even more exceptions and complications. Read the full NMPED Toolkit below.
*This article is not intended as legal advice and should not be taken as such.