Gov. Stitt and state leaders change COVID-19 quarantine guidelines for schools

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — Many are educators are concerned about school quarantine policies in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced back in November it is implementing an optional short-term policy change for schools with students who have been exposed to COVID-19.

“We feel confident that it’s a win for the schools who choose to adopt it,” said Dr. Jared Taylor, Interim State Epidemiologist.

That short-term policy ended in December.

There are some guidelines the schools must follow, including a designated area to house the quarantined students in a socially distanced environment that is away from contact of non-quarantined students and staff. Quarantined students have to stay in that space at all times during the school day, except for restroom breaks and outside time. Quarantined students will be tested repeatedly throughout the quarantine and schools must be able to supervise the students.

KFOR reported recently that Mustang Schools was the first district to institute the new policy, but one of the high school teachers said he doesn’t feel it’s safe for anyone involved.

“The teacher side of me was like, ‘no,’” said Mustang High School teacher Mark Webb.

That was his reaction upon hearing the new plan to quarantine students who have been exposed to COVID-19 together in a section or classroom of the school.

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, Heath Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye, and Secretary of Education Ryan Walters announced new school quarantine guidelines on Tuesday afternoon.

Stitt made it clear he thinks schools should be open in Oklahoma.

The new policy states if student or teacher is exposed to someone who tests positive for COVID-19 won’t have to quarantine. This policy applies if it happened while in a classroom setting, everyone was masked, and following other safety protocols like social distancing.

The new quarantine guidance does not apply if the COVID-19 exposure happens during after-school activities, including sports. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 must continue to isolate regardless where they contracted the virus or were wearing a mask. 

“We need to put our students first, and we need to get them back in class,” said Gov. Stitt. “Refusing to offer in-person school is jeopardizing our kids’ education; it’s jeopardizing teachers’ careers; and it’s jeopardizing the future of the State of Oklahoma. Today, we’re announcing a new policy that will help us keep schools open safely. It will also help encourage and reward mask wearing in schools across the state. Moving forward, schools that enforce the use of masks will not have to quarantine students that were potentially exposed to COVID-19 unless they are showing symptoms.”   

The State is prioritizing vaccinations for teachers who are 65 and older this week and next and will open vaccinations up to all teachers as soon as vaccine availability allows. The state will also double the amount of rapid antigen tests provided to schools to encourage frequent testing to catch any positive cases early.  

The Oklahoma Education Association released the following statements:

“The governor says schools are safe, but what is he doing to ensure that? He calls for no quarantining when there is a mask policy but won’t demand strong mask policies. He cherry picks data instead of holistically tackling the pandemic. Even sources cited by the governor say that school buildings are no longer safe when community spread reaches dangerous levels.

“He preaches local control unless he disagrees with local choices. Local school boards, who listen to parents in their communities, are the decision makers for our Oklahoma schools.

“The governor says schools aren’t open, but where are all these schools that aren’t open? Many educators and support professionals have been battling the pandemic while teaching, feeding students, and keeping everyone safe. Burnout is real, and many have been sick. Some have died. Don’t accuse teachers of not trying when they are in the fire right now.

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