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Maryville City Schools says it will not require quarantines for asymptomatic COVID-19 cases

The legislation that educators cited in a letter to parents was temporality blocked with a preliminary injunction on Dec. 10 by a federal judge.

MARYVILLE, Tenn. — On Dec. 16, leaders from Maryville City Schools sent a letter to parents saying educators would not be able to quarantine students who test positive for COVID-19. In that letter, they said an omnibus bill passed by the Tennessee General Assembly prevented them from doing so.

In the letter, officials said they would stop sending quarantine letters for household contacts and close contacts. They said they would only recommend quarantines for students who are exposed to COVID-19, test positive for it or do not have symptoms of COVID-19. They would not require quarantines for asymptomatic COVID-19 cases.

They would also stop automatically issuing 10-day isolations for positive cases. However, symptomatic students would be excluded from school similar to the district's policies on the flu.

However, around a week before education leaders sent the first letter to parents, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction against the legislation. That injunction prevented the law from going into effect, supposedly preserving the school system's ability to quarantine students for COVID-19.

The injunction was signed by Waverly D. Crenshaw Jr. and stemmed from a lawsuit against the omnibus bill, which said the laws violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the 14th Amendment.

It was filed on behalf of eight children ranging from 7 years old to 14 years old, all with various disabilities that put them at risk for COVID-19. They said the legislation increased the likelihood they would contract the coronavirus, possibly leading to severe illness.

The court found that the state's arguments for the legislation hinged on an assumption that the worst of the pandemic is over. However, in court records, they said that masking and quarantines are tools to prevent the pandemic from worsening and ensure students do not get sick.

On Jan. 3, Maryville City Schools sent another letter to families that said they did not have the power to quarantine students. In it, they said neither the schools nor the clinics would diagnose COVID-19 or suggest that symptoms could be related to COVID-19.

They also reiterated that the results of COVID-19 tests would not impact the district's decisions to keep students in school. They said they removed the COVID-19 decision tree and all letters from their websites and said they were only able to respond to symptoms, not tests.

"While we expect quite an increase in symptomatic illness over the next several weeks, we will be following revised guidance on how we respond to symptoms that may or may not be COVID-related," the letter said. "Most importantly, we need the support of our families to help keep schools open."

School nurses would only be able to provide COVID-19 tests based on symptoms or whether other family members tested positive, as well as other kinds of factors.

They urged parents to keep sick children at home in the latest letter and said that families would not be required to have children tested to receive an excused absence, but would be marked as COVID-19 related if parents provided a positive test.

Representative Gloria Johnson posted on social media that she thought the preliminary injunction still applied, too.

A list of how the school system would respond to symptoms students may show is available below.

WBIR reached out to Maryville City Schools about this story, and a spokesperson said it appeared like schools did not have authority to issue quarantines and said they were taking their guidance from the Tennessee Department of Health.

The specific guidance from TDH on quarantining students was not immediately available.