OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – As more school districts go back to in-person learning, officials say there has been a dramatic rise in the number of students and staff members who have been infected or exposed to COVID-19.
On Wednesday, the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced that it is implementing an optional short-term policy change for schools with students who have been exposed to COVID-19.
“In the past, if a student had tested positive for COVID-19, any students who interacted with the case — up to the entire class — would have been required to move to distance learning for 14 days,” said Dr. Jared Taylor, Interim State Epidemiologist. “An abrupt change like that is quite disruptive to learning, especially for middle schoolers and high schoolers who attend multiple classes in a day. An in-school quarantine option is the best way to keep our kids in school and prevent them from falling behind. OSDH carefully constructed a list of guidelines that schools must be in compliance with in order to maintain the wellbeing of students and keep everyone safe.”
Beginning Nov. 30 through Dec. 23, Oklahoma school districts can implement an in-school quarantine policy for students who were exposed to the virus in the classroom. As a result, students who were exposed to COVID-19 will be able to participate in distance learning in a school supervised environment.
“We’re issuing this change in policy to provide our school districts with some flexibility following the recent surge in COVID-19 cases,” said Dr. Lance Frye, Oklahoma Commissioner of Health. “We have recognized that some students subject to a 14-day quarantine may have lost many essential benefits schools provide, such as a safe environment with adult supervision, nutritional support, internet and technology resources and easier access to instructor assistance. Adopting this policy change will help protect students and teachers from COVID-19, while also providing a safe environment and resources needed for students to engage in distance learning during their quarantine period.”
On Tuesday night, Mustang Public Schools voted to institute the new policy, making it the first school district to do so.
“We were recently faced with the difficult decision to transition our entire district to distance learning due to the high numbers of quarantines and isolations we were seeing in our staff and students,” Mustang Superintendent Charles Bradley said. “Our goal, as a school district, is to have in-person instruction for five days each week for all of our students, but we will only do that if it is safe. This in-school quarantine pilot program will help move us in that direction. Our school board and administration believe in the efficacy of masks, and welcome this opportunity to gain a better understanding of their effect on positivity rates. Additionally, the testing provided by this In-School Quarantine (ISQ) Program will provide us data on asymptomatic students that we have previously not had access to. We are deeply grateful to our Board for allowing us to participate and thankful to Dr. Frye and the State Department of Health, as well as the Canadian County Health Department, for their continued partnership in this new opportunity.”
Schools that adopt the policy must follow these guidelines:
- Availability of facilities that will permit housing of quarantined students in a socially distanced environment and away from contact with non-quarantined students and staff. The area must be dedicated exclusively to housing quarantined students during school hours.
- Quarantined students shall remain in the space at all times during the school day except for restroom breaks and outside time.
- Quarantined students will maintain social distance of at least six feet within the quarantine space
- Quarantined students will be required to wear masks at all times except when eating
- Quarantined students will be tested repeatedly throughout the quarantine
- Any student who tests positive should immediately enter isolation and is no longer permitted in the in-school quarantine program.
- Quarantined students are not permitted to participate in extracurricular activities, ride buses to or from school, attend after-school events, or be in any other situations where contact with non-quarantined persons is likely.
- Schools must be able to supervise the students.
- Parents should be informed of the requirements and sign an agreement for the student to attend.
After Dec. 23, all testing data from in-school quarantine programs will be examined to determine the frequency of students who became infected during the quarantine period. This information will be used to inform return-to-school policies for the spring 2021 semester.