Map-wide quarantine and tracking policies for students

At this stage of the pandemic, most parents are familiar with COVID notification letters. But the instructions in the letters about whether your child should be quarantined or not vary greatly from school to school.

In Minneapolis, students exposed to COVID-19 at school are to be quarantined for 10 days. In the Anoka-Hennepin suburban school district, a single exposure does not lead to contact tracing or quarantine.

In Andover, Kansas, schools adhere to quarantine protocols set by county health departments. Since students from different districts attend the same school, those who sit next to each other in classrooms can be quarantined under two sets of rules.

In Anchorage and many Texas schools, close friends of classmates who test positive for COVID are given the opportunity to stay in the classroom or be quarantined. In suburban Chicago, siblings of students with any symptoms of COVID are to be quarantined until their siblings test negative.

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The number and complexity of school quarantine policies – in Fort Mill, South Carolina, eight pages of guidance instructing students when to quarantine them – left many parents with the impression that quarantining one child, not a classmate, was pointless. Family rules sometimes seem to differ: Christina Kennedy, a teacher in Benda, Oregon, received a call when her son was diagnosed with a positive case in August and was required to be quarantined. But when her daughter was intimately familiar with the positive case, there was no call.

“Unfortunately, we have a natural experiment across the country when it comes to reopening schools, especially with regard to quarantines,” said Dr. Leana Ven, professor of public health at George Washington University. “This is partly understandable, but when it comes to different approaches, there is certainly a partial approach.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines call for unvaccinated children who come into contact with someone who tests positive for COVID to be quarantined for a period to be determined locally. But the decision by the state, county, or school district to quarantine is arbitrary. Ed300’s informal personal learning coalition found that 31 states do not automatically isolate students from direct contact.

“We learned from this pandemic that in the absence of directives, school districts will behave autonomously, and you will get this result – good, bad or otherwise,” said David Lowe, superintendent of Anoka-Hennepin School in Minnesota. County.

Luo noted that the schools in his state operate independently.

This is true in many other areas as well. “Directors and district health officials have a lot of leeway,” said Leslie Beanen, a parent associated with Ed300 and faculty member at the Oregon-Portland State University School of Public Health at the Oregon-Portland State University of Health and Science.

“Quarantines can last seven or 14 days,” Bienen said, and local officials have a say in determining who qualifies as close contact — as determined by the CDC, within 6 feet of anyone, which collectively amounts to at least 15 minutes within 24 hours. But the agency also recommended that schools maintain a distance of at least 3 feet between students.

Local governance isn’t necessarily bad – schools have to make their own rules, Wen said, but that’s why things can look different from school to school, no matter how close they are.

Kennedy, Bend, Oregon, teacher works in a private school, and her husband teaches in a public school that her children attend.

“A private school is much more prone to closing entire classrooms than a public school,” Kennedy said. “I know that three entire classrooms have been closed in my private school since September,” while zero has been closed in the public system.

She noted that districts in the same county, run by the same health officials, deal with this problem in different ways. “There is nothing consistent. They say everything is based on science, but we are not allowed to question or point to anything. Why is it so here and so there? This is very frustrating for both parents and teachers, ”Kennedy said. said.

Another common complaint: The rules differ depending on whether the students are coming to school or to extracurricular activities, or if it is a social or sports event. “What really annoys our community is that you can come to a public event at school or spend four hours at a sports event and no one gets quarantined, but you can sit next to someone for 40 minutes for school day and be out of school for 10 days, ”Luo ​​said.

The confusion has led many parents to wonder if politicians have done their homework.

Jessica Butler Bell, vice president of public affairs at Webster Elementary School in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in California, said parents are asking, “Are we really following science? Or are we being too careful? It should be based on logic. and I think people are asking, “Have you thought about that?” “

Bienen co-authored an article in The Wall Street Journal titled “It’s crazy for schoolchildren to be quarantined,” citing research showing that only a small percentage of quarantined students ended up testing positive for COVID as a result of exposure at school. The group also says data from Portland Public Schools show that students attending Title I schools – those that receive special federal funding because they serve a large number of low-income families – are more likely to be quarantined.

“Children with funds go on vacation or to grandparents when they are in quarantine,” Kennedy said. “It’s great for them, but what about kids who don’t have parents at home? They sit at home with no education, no food, no services. This exacerbates inequality. ”

But parents are equally frustrated when there are no rules: Wen said she heard about parents self-tracing informal contacts when they think their schools are not doing their job.

Complex policies have other implications as well. Some parents are reluctant to test their children for fear that a positive test result will cause them to drop out of school or other activities, Kennedy said. And in some schools, she added, teachers are delaying issuing seating charts to school nurses or other public health officials for contact tracing, knowing that children may need to be quarantined after information is released.

Some schools are piloting a possible solution: replace quarantine with a “stay test” policy. Under this policy, any student deemed close will be able to take a rapid test and test negative in order to stay in school and avoid quarantine.

CDC Director Rochelle Walenski recently noted that “we are working with states to assess the term exam policy as a promising potential new strategy for schools. And we expect recommendations to come out in the near future. “

Wen Jiabao believes that politics can help. “It’s a way to keep kids out of school.”

In Santa Monica Malibu, one disappointment Butler Bell hears from parents is that there is no plan to end quarantines and other layers of protection.

According to Kennedy, parents often feel that their fears are being ignored. “If [decision-makers] after spending one hour in the real class, they will make different decisions, ”she said.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is the national newsroom that publishes in-depth journalism on health issues. Together with policy analysis and surveys, KHN is one of the three main operating programs of the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). The KFF is a charitable, non-profit organization that provides health information to the nation.

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