Following Governor Stitt’s press conference Tuesday afternoon, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) announced new recommended guidance related to the quarantining of students in schools.
The optional changes to quarantine protocol proposed by the OSDH:
pertain ONLY to students exposed in a classroom setting.
authorize school districts to modify the quarantine guidance to allow students to remain in some classes IF mask wearing was fully implemented (students are wearing masks at all times) AND the exposed individual(s) is not exhibiting any COVID symptoms.
DO NOT APPLY to quarantined students who are exposed at home, during out-of-school activities, or in-school activities where circumstances are likely to result in increased production of respiratory droplets, such as band, choir, PE, and sports. These students represent the majority of our current quarantine cases and would not be exempted by the new guidance.
After reviewing this guidance it quickly became apparent that the difficulties of implementation lie in the details. For example:
The guidance stipulates that the exposed student still be excluded from social activities, public environments, extracurricular activities, and any “high risk” school activity where masking is either not feasible or is not known to be effective at preventing transmission of COVID-19. Examples provided in the guidance include band, music, PE, sports, and meals. At younger grades, this would also include recess periods as mask wearing is not currently expected of students.
Applying this guidance would result in some students being able to attend some classes, yet being excluded from other classes and activities at school where masks are not typically worn. These students would also still be excluded from all public settings outside of school until they meet normal quarantine criteria.
Additionally, concerns related to the level of safety provided under these new guidelines and the lack of input from the State Department of Education (SDE) in the process are many. To name a few:
The guidance refers to a small-scale study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) which found low rates of secondary transmission within school settings that had universal masking and other mitigation protocols.
The Oklahoma Chapter of the AAP quickly rebutted in a statement issued yesterday citing that the guidance does not adhere to recommendations from the AAP or CDC and should not be applied.
According to the AAP, the results and analysis from the study referenced by OSDH have been taken out of context and are not transferable to Oklahoma, particularly when COVID-rates are surging in our state.
As reported, the SDE was not consulted in the development of these new standards and these recommendations are not endorsed by State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister.
Due to these logistical issues and safety concerns, the district has decided to retain our current student quarantine protocol until COVID conditions in our state and community improve substantially. We will maintain the practices followed for the past five months which:
are based on the guidance from the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
ensure that when COVID-positive individuals are identified, detailed contact tracing protocol occurs, accurately identifying individuals who meet the CDC definition for close contact.
do not elicit quarantine for students who do not meet the standard for close contact.
We understand, respect and share the Governor’s desire to have students remain in school for in-person instruction. However, this must be accomplished while also adhering to all appropriate safety measures established during this pandemic. This is not a time to let our guard down. Rather, it is a time for increased vigilance in following the CDC guidelines developed over time with cooperation and input from thousands of respected medical professionals, epidemiologists, and public health experts. The best means to accomplish this shared goal is for all of us to follow practices that are sound and evidence-based.
The bottom line is this. While we remain focused on prioritizing in-person learning, the district will not compromise or cut corners when it comes to the health and safety of our students, staff, and families - particularly when COVID case counts, hospitalizations, and fatalities are at all-time highs.
Spartans, I recognize we have all grown weary of this terrible pandemic and simply want things to return to normal as soon as possible. With vaccinations ongoing, hopefully the days of normalcy will come again soon. Until then, let’s continue to work together to safeguard our families and community by reducing the spread of this virus and keeping each other healthy and well. Thank you for your understanding and support.