Responding to Students and Staff Who Travel

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In light of the ongoing pandemic, out-of-state or international travel can pose a significant risk to students and staff, and potentially impact the ability of schools to remain open for in-person instruction. 

While New Jersey lifted it’s formal travel advisory on May 17, 2021, the danger of travel for those who are unvaccinated remains at a very high level, given the elevated levels of COVID-19 infection in much of the country, and around the world, particularly in light of the Delta variant and other emerging variants.  As a result, the CDC has in place clear guidelines for travel for those who are unvaccinated.

School districts face an enhanced risk for a COVID-related outbreak if they fail to act once they become aware of unvaccinated students or staff members who have traveled out of our immediate region (New Jersey plus its contiguous states – Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York) and then wish to, or do, return to school without adhering to CDC guidelines.  Furthermore, given the legal obligation to take reasonable steps to address foreseeable risks of harm, school districts should consider putting in place clear guidelines for responding to such travel and should act to enforce any policies that are currently in place regarding student or staff travel.

The legal authority to address the travel issue is clear for school districts.  In Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 253, which addressed masking and vaccination requirements, the Governor clearly established that school districts had the authority to put in place additional measures to protect public health.  In addition, the legal duty of care to address foreseeable risks such as those related to travel by unvaccinated students or staff, creates a potential for an increased risk of legal liability if school officials take no steps to address this issue.

If your school district has in place clear policies related to travel, it is important that all students, parents/guardians and staff be reminded of those policies and that those policies be enforced consistently for all students and staff.  If your district does not have such policies in place, it would be prudent to consider putting policies in place moving forward to address this issue, given that the need for a clear policy addressing travel will continue throughout the school year, as families and school staff often look to squeeze in vacations during various school breaks, and some families choose to travel even when school is in session.  

Such policies could require any unvaccinated individuals who travel outside our immediate region to quarantine as per the CDC guidelines outlined below.  The policy would also have to address how the district would handle virtual instruction and staff absences due to the quarantine.  For additional information on addressing absences related to quarantine, see the FAQ prepared by the NJPSA Legal and Government Relations Departments and LEGAL ONE. 

In addition to considering new travel related policies, school districts should work to educate students, parents/guardians and staff about the ongoing dangers of travel, particularly for those who are unvaccinated.

Listed below is a summary of recommended CDC quarantine protocols related to travel and a link to the latest New Jersey information:

Currently, the CDC recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated.

Domestic Travel

According to the CDC, unvaccinated individuals who do travel should get tested 1-3 days before their trip, 3-5 days after travel, and stay home and self-quarantine for 7 days after domestic travel.

For those traveling to New Jersey, domestic travel is defined as lasting 24 hours or longer to states or US territories other than those connected to New Jersey, such as Pennsylvania, New York, and Delaware.

For more information, refer to the CDC’s guidance for domestic travel.

International Travel

The CDC requires all air passengers arriving in the United States from a foreign country to get tested for COVID-19 no more than 3 days before their flight departs and to present the negative result or documentation of having recovered from COVID-19 to the airline before boarding the flight.

For more information, visit the CDC website.

In addition, with specific exceptions, foreign nationals who have been in any of the following countries during the past 14 days may NOT enter the United States: India, China, Iran, countries in the European Schengen Area, United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Brazil, and South Africa. For more details and a full list of exceptions, refer to the CDC’s update on travelers prohibited from entry.