SALEM, N.H. –– The school district has updated a policy regarding the exclusion of sick students, giving ultimate power to school nurses and Superintendent Michael Delahanty.

Nurses –– after repeatedly having to confront parents who sent their sick students to school –– collectively felt in January 2019 that the weight of a School Board policy would help their efforts, according to Delahanty.

“This was a year before we were confronting the pandemic,” he said, “and we were seeing rises in flu cases with related infectious students.”

With COVID-19 infection rates now the topic of worldwide conversations and each of Salem’s schools working to stop the spread, School Board members revisited the policy this week.

“In the process of confronting the pandemic coupled with our plan to bring all students back for in-person instruction, we revisited the policy to be sure we can exclude students deemed infections or contagious,” Delahanty said.

He added, “We simply had to add language that protects students with disabilities insofar as we have additional obligations to accommodate their needs.”

The policy states: “A student may be excluded from school when the student exhibits symptoms of a contagious or communicable illness, or the student is a hazard to him/herself or others.”

The school nurse will determine whether a student should be kept out, and the superintendent must approve the decision based upon “hazards other than contagious or communicable diseases,” the policy reads.

Building principals are responsible for notifying parents when their child is excluded from school, and must provide the parent written criteria for readmission.

Communicable diseases will be reported to the commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The policy “shall not supersede any rights a student may have under the Individuals with Disabilities Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, or any other law providing special rights to any child with a disability.”

Since the start of the school year, everyone in district buildings has been required to wear masks in common areas where social distancing of six feet is not feasible.

The only reprieve from mask-wearing is in classrooms and at lunch tables, where $376,000 worth of three-sided plastic barriers have been set up, records show.

School officials said they learned of the first student to test positive for COVID-19 at the high school Sept. 10. Delahanty said the district worked with health officials to provide a list of close contacts.

According to state guidelines created this year, schools must send home any student who goes to the nurse’s office with signs of illness, and the student must have a 14-day quarantine or COVID-19 test.

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