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Parents and school districts weary of two-week quarantines, consider test-to-stay

Many students have to quarantine for two weeks after a COVID exposure, even if they test negative.
Phil Roeder
Many students have to quarantine for two weeks after a COVID exposure, even if they test negative.

At many Missouri schools, students are required to be quarantined for two full weeks after a COVID-19 exposure, even if they show no symptoms and test negative before those two weeks are up.

Since these quarantines are detrimental to learning and can wreak havoc on parents’ schedules, many parents now wonder if there are better options to mitigate coronavirus cases in schools.

This year, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education felt it was important to give individual districts control over COVID-19 quarantine options for students and staff, Commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Margie Vandeven said on St. Louis on the Air.

“If you're a local-control state, then the concern becomes, we need to trust our local community members to make the very, very best decisions,” Vandeven said.

In Missouri, school districts have four options for handling positive coronavirus cases. They are detailed in state guidelines released last year.

One of them is the test-to-stay option. Under this guideline, if students are exposed to COVID-19, they could — with parental consent — be tested by the school, and as long as they test negative and show no symptoms, they can continue to go to class and participate in extracurriculars. Vandeven said the outlook for test-to-stay programs has been good.

“So far, reports are strong. And it's not just Missouri — I think we also have a couple of our neighboring states who are using these kinds of approaches,” Vandeven said. “And we're happy to see that it's in place.”

Margie Vandeven discusses Missouri schools' quarantine options

The test-to-stay option seems to be working well, she said, but it’s not something all districts are willing, or able, to implement.

“It goes back to, again, how much do our schools and local health officials think they can take on? And so while that might be a really effective tool in some districts, maybe some have decided to go an alternate pathway and to do something else,” Vandeven said. “Something like that does involve getting parental consent, and each district has somewhat taken a different approach.”

The state has three other options for schools. In the first, students and staff exposed to the coronavirus do not need to quarantine if they’re fully vaccinated, or if they’ve had COVID-19 in the previous 90 days. The second option says quarantine is not required after exposure if masks were worn “correctly and consistently.” With the third option, a student who was exposed has to quarantine outside of school settings but can still attend class in-person. All of these options are only valid if the person who was exposed shows no symptoms.

Missouri’s priority this year has been getting students back into the classroom. Vandeven said students can’t afford to lose another year of in-person learning, and last year’s standardized test results show that much is true.

“We did see a more significant decline in those places where students were not able to attend school in person. And specifically, what we're looking at now is those areas that had trouble with the digital divide that exists in our state,” Vandeven said. “So not only if there was in-person learning or virtual or remote learning taking place, but did they have the resources available to successfully do that.”

Quarantines, Vandeven pointed out, will inevitably still have to occur as the pandemic continues. But she feels DESE has done the work to help districts find what works for them to keep kids in the classroom and to keep them healthy.

“I think we have done just about everything we can do in talking about the various options that are available,” she said.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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