Option would allow students exposed to COVID-19 to return to class
By Traci Chapman
Mustang Public School District is the first across the state to approve an in-school quarantine program developed by Oklahoma State Department of Health.
An Opportunity for Students Exposed to COVID-19 to Return to Campus
The short-term change in the district’s health and safety plan allows students exposed to the novel coronavirus to return to school in a “highly structured atmosphere,” rather than being forced to remain at home in isolation, officials said.
Mustang Board of Education approved the move during a Nov. 24 special meeting. In-school quarantine – only available to students at Mustang High School – was initially scheduled by OSDH as of press time to begin Nov. 30 and run until Dec. 23. However, Mustang’s districtwide virtual lesson mandate as of press time was set to continue at least until Dec. 4; ISQ would not, of course, begin until students who elected in-person learning returned to the classroom.
“We’re issuing this change in policy to provide our school districts with some flexibility following the recent surge in COVID-19 cases,” state health commissioner Dr. Lance Frye stated in a release. “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.”
Officials – Testing Data Could Fill in Blanks
The program represented several opportunities, Mustang Superintendent Charles Bradley told board members during the Nov. 24 meeting. Currently, students exposed to COVID-19 are placed on quarantine/isolation for 14 days, then return to school at the end of that time. Many – perhaps most – however are not ever tested for the virus, so it’s not known if they actually become infected with the coronavirus.
“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 the ISQ program will provide us data on asymptomatic students that we have previously not had access to,” Bradley said. “Our goal is always to return to five days a week in-person instruction or everyone, and we believe this a step towards that.”
As of the date of the special meeting, 134 Mustang High School students were in an active quarantine; data as of Nov. 24 indicated 44 individuals quarantined due to a close contact turned positive – but that data was misleading said Jan Fox, Canadian County Health Department regional administrative director.
“Without having those test results, we have no idea – because this is something that results in so many people being infected but asymptomatic,” she said. “This program will answer some of the questions we have about close contacts and how it’s impacting people, in this case students.”
“The OSDH believes that this number would be higher with a testing protocol in place, but the ISQ will allow for solid data to be collected on this subject to inform future decisions including, but not limited to, the length and/or processes associated with quarantining, educational models,” the district stated in a presentation given to school board members during the Nov. 24 meeting.
ISQ ‘Highly Monitored’
The program would be open to a limited number of students whose families volunteered them to participate in in-school quarantine; likewise, district staff charged with overseeing students would do so on a volunteer basis, Bradley said.
ISQ students would have different start and finish times than their peers attending regular classes; in Mustang a specific wing was allocated to the program’s use, with a separate entrance utilized by those participating, assistant superintendent Ryan McKinney said. While participating in ISQ students could not be involved in any extracurricular activities, ride the bus or attend after-school events or activities.
Within that space, students must continuously wear masks, except when eating, and maintain at least six feet distance from each other; in Mustang, students would be tested for COVID-19 each school day using the Binax Now rapid diagnostic test, Fox said. District administrators would be required to report test results to the health department after learning results.
OSDH would provide tests to the district and there was no cost to Mustang for participating in the program, Bradley said. Should a student test come back positive, that student would immediately enter isolation at home, officials said.
“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,” Fox said. “This information will be used to inform return-to-school policies for the spring 2021 semester.”