An Oklahoma school district is using a new quarantine policy that allows students who have been exposed to COVID-19 to stay in in-person classes.
Minco Public Schools Superintendent Kevin Sims said when Gov. Kevin Stitt unveiled the policy last month, he was skeptical initially.
“It always crosses your mind, 'Is this the right thing to do?'” Sims said. “This is no different.”
This week, Sims said a middle school student tested positive for the virus. The district confirmed about 12 other students had been exposed but have not displayed symptoms.
Sims said the 12 students’ families and the district have chosen to employ the new policy, which is a first for the district.
“I'm cautiously optimistic, but… if we have any spread at all, it's done,” Sims said.
Stitt’s policy, aimed at keeping students in classrooms rather than virtual courses, has been adopted by Minco, Duncan Public Schools, and other districts, according to the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.
The policy allows a district to forego quarantining a student that has been exposed to COVID-19 in the classroom in certain situations. Students, faculty and staff must be using face coverings and social distancing must be in place.
Any student that tests positive or displays symptoms would not qualify and would be required to quarantine outside school. Any exposed student is not allowed to participate in extracurriculars.
Sims said the roughly 12 students exposed this week will continue going to classrooms where all students have assigned seats. They will not be allowed to participate in sports, only academic classes.
“They do not go to the cafeteria to eat lunch. They eat in their own space where they can social distance,” Sims said.
When Stitt announced the policy on Jan. 12, he cited a North Carolina study that found in-person learning did not significantly contribute to virus transmission in a community. The group behind the study said Stitt misinterpreted its findings.
Since the start of the pandemic, Sims said the district has had to quarantine a high number of students. The district, which has a total enrollment of about 550, has sent a student home to isolate about 500 times, Sims said.
“My own daughter had to quarantine twice, 28 days back in the fall. It’s brutal. We’re hoping that this will eliminate some of that and still be safe.”
Medical experts expressed skepticism about the policy shortly after it was announced.
Dr. Dwight Sublett, the president of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics said the policy does not follow CDC guidelines and could make contact tracing more complicated should the virus spread.
“If you have individuals going from room to room, classroom to classroom and there are oodles of people they are coming into contact with them, that makes the situation more complicated,” Sublett said.