Johnson County school districts are almost a month into the 2021-22 school year — and have been reporting weekly COVID-19 cases and quarantines among students and staff.
Each district has its own process for handling COVID-19 cases among students, including what counts as an exposure and how long students need to quarantine.
The districts say they receive guidance and help with contact tracing from the county health department, as well.
After receiving multiple inquiries from readers about districts’ process for dealing with students potentially exposed to COVID-19, we asked the four public school districts serving northern Johnson County a series of questions about their protocols.
Answers from Shawnee Mission and USD 232 in De Soto are included below. The Blue Valley and Olathe School Districts have not yet responded to our questions, and we will update the story when they do.
What counts as an exposure?
For Shawnee Mission, an exposure is when an unvaccinated individual is within six feet of an individual with a positive COVID-19 test for 15 minutes or more — and one of them is unmasked, the district says.
Blue Valley, according to spokesperson Kaci Brutto, follows guidance from the CDC and Johnson County Department of Health and Environment that says a “close contact” is “within 6 feet of a COVID-positive individual” for 15 minutes or more.
USD 232’s exposure qualifications are nearly the same. Spokesperson Alvie Cater said someone who is within three to six feet of an infected person for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period is considered a “close contact.”
Who conducts contact tracing to determine who else may have been exposed?
Shawnee Mission provides JCDHE with information in order to complete contact tracing, Chief Communications Officer David Smith said.
This may includes class rosters and seating charts, he said, in order to give JCHDE officials a fuller picture of what children may have been in close contact with a positive case.
Brutto says Blue Valley works in cooperation with JCDHE “to gather the necessary information” so that JCDHE can determine what students may have been exposed to a positive case.
Cater with USD 232 said JCDHE does contact tracing for them, as well, and the district cooperates with the department when determining who has been exposed.
Who determines if the exposure warrants exclusion from school?
Shawnee Mission relies on guidance from JCDHE.
Chief Communications Officer David Smith said the district works with JCDHE and district staff, including teachers, nurses, principals and lunchroom supervisors, to make the determination if a student’s exposure was sustained and close enough to warrant quarantining at home.
Cater told the Post that JCDHE makes those determinations for USD 232.
In Blue Valley, Brutto said the same: the district relies on JCDHE to make determinations about who should be quarantined based on their exposure.
If older students are vaccinated, are they still required to quarantine?
Smith said in Shawnee Mission, if students are vaccinated and asymptomatic, they don’t have to quarantine — even if they’ve been identified as having been exposed to COVID-19.
Vaccinated students will quarantine if they’re symptomatic or develop symptoms within 14 days of exposure, Smith said.
Blue Valley follows similar guidance from the CDC, which says asymptomatic individuals who are fully vaccinated or who have tested positive with a PCR test within the last 180 days do not need to quarantine, according to Brutto.
In USD 232, fully vaccinated individuals don’t need to be recommended for quarantine as long as they remain asymptomatic.
Additionally, if someone is identified as a close contact but can provide evidence of having previously been infected with COVID-19 (for example, by providing a doctor’s note or report) within the last six months, they may also be exempt from quarantining as long as they remain asymptomatic.
Currently, children younger than 12 remain ineligible to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
What if an unvaccinated child was wearing a mask at the time of potential exposure?
For Shawnee Mission, Smith said both the student determined to have a positive case and the other exposed student would need to be masked in order for the exposed student to avoid quarantine.
Otherwise, “exclusion would be recommended” for both parties, Smith said.
In Blue Valley, Brutto said both parties should be masked in order to avoid exposure. Whether students were masked or not at the time of potential exposure is used by JCDHe to determine whether a quarantine is needed.
In USD 232, if everyone in a group wears a mask, Cater said generally only the person with COVID-19 would be excluded for recommended quarantine.
If there are more than two positive cases in a group, or there are people unmasked, then the “masked individuals may be excluded for recommended quarantine,” he said.
How long must an exposed child quarantine at home?
Unvaccinated children or children showing symptoms of COVID-19 need to quarantine at home for at least eight days in Shawnee Mission.
If a child in quarantine is not experiencing symptoms, an earlier release from quarantine is possible. Asymptomatic children can get tested on day six and return to school on day eight if still asymptomatic, Smith said.
A similar timeline is used in Blue Valley.
Based on JCDHE’s recommendations, Blue Valley says students who are asymptomatic and test negative can return as early as day eight of quarantine.
Those who have not tested can return starting on day 11 of quarantine.
For USD 232, there are two ways for those who are asymptomatic to get out of quarantine, which are recommended by the CDC and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
The first option is the same as Shawnee Mission’s: take a PCR test on day six and return on day eight.
The second option is, without being tested, quarantine for 10 days and return on day 11 after the exposure, Cater said.
What about a child who tests positive? How long do they need to be quarantined?
A child who tests positive in Shawnee Mission needs to quarantine for “10 days from symptom development or test date if” they’re asymptomatic, Smith said.
In Blue Valley, Brutto said, students who test positive for COVID-19 must quarantine at home “at least 10 days minimum” and also have “improved/resolved symptoms and feel fever-free for 24 hours” before returning to school.
USD 232 requires a 10-day quarantine for those who have tested positive for COVID-19. This is based on the first day the person became symptomatic, Cater said.
How can students keep up with their school work during quarantine?
Shawnee Mission says students are able to use the district’s online learning management system Canvas to access assignments, Smith said.
Though a new state law limits students to 40 hours of virtual instruction for the entire academic year, Smith said the time quarantined students spend at home accessing assignments on Canvas does not eat into that.
That virtual learning time, Smith said, would occur if an entire school building or the whole district was in remote learning, as it was at the beginning of last school year.
It would also require students to log onto WebEx and connect with their teacher like they did when doing remote learning during the 2020-21 school year.
In Blue Valley, Brutto said “teachers at each level work to make work available in the event of student absences” both both COVID-19 and other reasons.
In USD 232, teachers work with each student on a case-by-case basis to help keep them on track, Cater said.
He also emphasized that the district did not have plans to offer extended remote learning due to the state law and guidance from the state department of education.
After quarantine, what requirements are there for a child’s return to school?
This depends on what the students were excluded for, Smith said — an exposure, a positive test or COVID-like illness.
Below are the criteria for each, as provided by Smith:
- Students who were exposed and have tested negative on day six of their quarantine can return to school on day eight if they are asymptomatic.
- If a student tests positive and is symptomatic, symptoms must be improving for 24 hours before the student can return. This also goes for students with a COVID-like illness but not an actual positive test.
- A student who has tested positive but is asymptomatic can return to school 10 days from the test date.
- Students with COVID-like symptoms can also return to school if they present either a doctor’s note stating a different diagnosis or a negative PCR test result.
USD 232 requires students who have tested positive to quarantine at home for 10 days, regardless of when they tested, if they’re symptomatic.
If they’re asymptomatic but tested positive, students can return 10 days after their lab test.
The district also allows exposed students to return on day eight if they’re asymptomatic and test negative. If they haven’t tested, the district allows exposed students to return on the 11th day after exposure, Cater said.
In Blue Valley, Brutto said in response to this question: “JCDHE makes public health decisions.”