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FAQs Related to COVID-19 
November 23, 2021

Recent updates:

11/23/21: Masks are recommended but not required in school facilities and transportation. Language was clarified around requirements vs. recommendations for isolation and quarantine.

Safe, in-person learning for Tennessee students is essential. We can achieve this goal through proven COVID-19 mitigation strategies for students, teachers, and staff. Proven mitigation strategies include vaccination, masking, testing, social distancing, isolation of positive cases, and quarantining close contacts. It is mutually beneficial for health departments and schools to partner in mitigating COVID-19 to keep schools open. 


1. What is the best way to keep teachers and staff in schools?

Vaccination and masking. Vaccinated individuals are exempt from quarantine for COVID-19 as long as they are not experiencing symptoms. More information regarding vaccinated individuals’ exemption from quarantine recommendations from the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) can be found here.

2. May I opt-out my child out of a mask mandate?

Legislation passed on November 12, 2021, outlines when schools can implement a mask mandate. Mask mandates may only be put in place if the governor issues a state of emergency, and all steps are followed below to enact a temporary 14-day mask mandate.  If a mask mandate is issued there will not be an opt-out option per state law.  Mask mandates apply to school facilities and school transportation. A temporary 14-day mask mandate can be implemented by the school district provided all conditions below exist: 

    1. The school principal must request in writing to place the school under a mask mandate.
    2. Severe conditions must exist: the governor must declare a state of emergency and Sullivan County must have an average rolling 14-day COVID-19 infection rate of at least one thousand (1,000) new known infections for every one hundred thousand (100,000) residents of the county.
    3. The Bristol Tennessee City Schools Board of Education must enact a mask mandate policy for a 14-day period on a school-by-school or campus-by-campus situation.  This statute will be the only method a district may use to mandate face coverings. 
    4. The school must provide persons twelve (12) and older with an N95-rated mask.
    5. The school must provide persons under twelve (12) but over five (5) years of age with a face covering that provides air filtration similar to an N95-rated mask.

3. What is the best way to prevent infection, isolation, and quarantine in the K-12 setting?

Vaccination. Masking is also effective to control the spread of COVID-19. Layering mitigation strategies with testing, cohorting, and social distancing will reduce infections and the likelihood that you need to isolate or quarantine. Multiple mitigation measures are necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19. More information on mitigation measures for the K-12 setting can be found here.

4. What is the difference between isolation and quarantine? 

Both isolation and quarantine slow the spread of COVID-19. Both isolation and quarantine involve staying at home and staying away from other people. Isolation is for a person who is COVID-positive. Quarantine is for a person who is a close contact of a COVID-positive case. Best practice for student and staff safety is to follow the recommended guidelines from the TDH for isolation and quarantine. Clickhere to view the TDH recommendations for isolation and quarantine

5. Who is exempt from quarantine/isolation?

The TDH recommends quarantine and isolation to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The TDH recommends close contacts quarantine unless:

  • You are vaccinated and are not experiencing symptoms. 
  • You were positive for COVID-19 in the previous three months, you have recovered, and you remain free from COVID-19 symptoms. 
  • You were exposed to a COVID-19 infected individual in the K-12 setting, and both you and the infected individual consistently and correctly wore masks the entire time. 

Even if you satisfy a quarantine exception, wearing a mask for 10 days after your exposure is recommended. Quarantine exceptions recommended by the TDH.The TDH recommends isolation when a student/staff tests positive for COIVD-19Click here for additional guidance for isolation recommendations


6. Where can I get a COVID-19 vaccine?

BTCS, in coordination with the SCRHD and local agencieswill continue to hold FREE,COVID-19 vaccination clinics throughout the year for students, staff, and community members. Additional information about opportunities in our community to obtain the COVID-19 vaccine are available here.


7. Where can I get tested for COVID-19?

BTCS will offer FREE, COVID-19 testing for students and staff members who meet the criteria to be tested. COVID-19 testing in schools not only helps prevent the spread of the virus, but it also helps students and staff stay healthy and able to continue learning, working, and enjoying other important activities! Testing will be conducted by the nurse at each school and at the BTCS Administration Building. Click here for additional information for testing in our district. Click here for additional COVID-19 testing sites in our area.

8. Will the school and health department accept a home test kit to determine positive case and begin contact tracing?  

Yes, however, forhome test to be included in contact tracing you must email the following information: a picture of the test results, a picture of test packaging, the individual’s full name, date of birth, gender, address, and phone number. Testing completed at health care facilities, including BTCS testing sites, will automatically populate in the Tennessee Department of Health’s network to initiate contact tracingContact the school nurse if a positive test is received to initiate Temporary Homebound status. 


9. Who is a close contact?

Close contacts are individuals who have been within six feet of a person infected with COVID-19 for at least 15 minutes (either consecutive or cumulative) within 24 hours. However, this general guidance depends on the exposure level and setting.

In the K-12 setting, the close contact definition excludes someone exposed to COVID-19 if both the infected individual and the exposed individual correctly and consistently wore well-fitting masks the entire time. 

The decision on who constitutes a close contact is made by the local health department after its investigation. Once identified as a close contact and told to quarantine by the health departmentparents should contact the school office to initiate Temporary Homebound status.

10. Can my child or staff self-identify as a close contact while waiting to be identified as a contact by the health department? 

Yes. Parents are encouraged to self-identify their child as a close contact to a positive case while awaiting additional communication/directions from the SCRHD. Parents should call the school nurse to initiate Temporary Homebound status.

11. What is involved in contact tracing?

The Sullivan County Regional Health Department (SCRHD) will conduct contact tracing to ensure positive cases are investigated and their contacts identified. For maximum efficiency and effectiveness, our school district provides access to the SCRHD that will help to identify contacts of a case (e.g., class seating charts, schedules, sport team lists, or other information pertinent to a particular person or grade) (FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) - 20 U.S.C. § 1232g(b)(1)(I); 34 C.F.R. §§ 99.31(a)(10) and 99.36)If COVID-19 is widespread in the community, there may be a delay in identifying close contacts. Therefore, we encourage families to take steps to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Parents are encouraged to self-identify their child with the school if they are aware their child is a close contact to initiate Temporary Homebound status while awaiting confirmation and communication from the health department.  

Testingcompleted at health care facilities, including BTCS testing sites, will automatically populatein the Tennessee Department of Health network to initiate contact tracing. Home testcan be included in contact tracing once the positive result is emailed to COVIDlabs@sullivanhealth.orgwith the following information: picture of the test results, a picture of test packaging, the student’s/staff’s full name, date of birth, gender, address, and phone number. We encourage parents to share the results with the health department via email. A positive case should be prepared to share a list of close contacts with the health department when contacted.

  • Sporadic Cases – The SCRHD will communicate close contact for individual cases. Close contacts should self-identify with the school to begin Temporary Homebound status.
  • Clusters of positive cases – If a cluster of positive cases is identified in a classroom, grade level, or group, BTCS will notify parents of possible exposure based on the number of cases. Parents will then have the option for their child to voluntarily quarantine and initiate Temporary Homebound status or return to school and monitor for symptoms. In some instances, BTCS may work with the SCRHD to quarantine all students (in a classroom, grade level, or group) associated with a cluster. When this happens, BTCS will notify families and exclude the impacted students from school. The SCRHD will follow-up with a phone call or text to families within 24 hours with additional information. Due to the overwhelming number of cases, this could be delayed.


12Can my child participate in online school this year?

BTCS provides a virtual K-12 option through Tennessee Online Public School (TOPS). The school is designed as a year-long pathway for virtual instruction. Click the link to find out more about TOPS.

13Why can’t we transition to remote learning like last school year?

The state of Tennessee passed a law effective for this school year that limits districts’ options for offering virtual learning (CHAPTER 0520-01-17).Under extreme circumstances, the school system may apply for a seven-day waiver to transition to remote learning at the classroom, grade, or school level if the district can demonstrate a significant impact of COVID-19 due to isolation and quarantines (Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-1-209 (d).Waivers are not permissible to be implemented district-wide.

14What does my child do to keep up with coursework when they are in isolation or quarantine?

Students in isolation/quarantine or self-identify as a contact and quarantine due to COVID-19 are permitted to transition to Temporary Homebound status and be counted present for the school day by meeting daily attendance criteria. Teachers will work with individual families to determine the best methods for instruction and assignment completion.

15What is a seven-day waiver for Temporary Remote/Virtual Learning?

The Tennessee Department of Education now provides school districts the option to apply for a waiver to transition to temporary remote instruction at the classroom or school level. Approved waivers provide up to a seven-day shift to remote learning when the number of staff and/or student absences make it difficult to continue in-person learning.

In order to qualify for a waiver, BTCS must demonstrate a significant impact of COVID-19 quarantine or isolation on school operations, which impacts students and staff. The waivers allow BTCS flexibility to request relief rather than utilize stockpiled inclement weather/emergency closure days when situations warrant temporary closures. You will be provided with information on staying connected if a remote learning plan is enacted. Your child’s teacher will provide learning opportunities and material throughout the remote status.

Waivers are not available for district-wide closures.


16Will the district close schools based on community spread or widespread cases of COVID-19

Our district believes the best place for students to learn is in person. The decision to cancel instruction is not made lightly. Before considering closing all schools across the district, all mitigation strategies and alternatives will be considered. During a closure, inclement weather/emergency closure days would be utilized. While the state provides districts the opportunity to apply for waivers for classroom and school closures, this opportunity is not available for district-wide closures. Should a district-wide closure be warranted, the district must utilize stockpiled/inclement weather days. We have eight of these days available for the 2021-2022 school year.

There will be no remote instruction during a district-wide closure. School closure could occur with high numbers of staff in isolation who are unable to teach remotely due to illnessOther factors to consider would be the current attendance trends among students and staff and the number of known cases and quarantines of COVID-19 in the district.

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