USD 232 in De Soto is relaxing its rules around excluding students from school who have been exposed to COVID-19 and is also broaching the possibility of loosening the district’s universal mask rule for some students.
After hours of discussion and taking patron input on both sides of the COVID-19 debate, the USD 232 Board of Education on Monday unanimously agreed to modify the district’s current COVID-19 policy to not exclude students from school whose only known COVID-19 exposure came outdoors.
Board members held a lengthy discussion about the district’s exclusions policy, with some board members raising questions and voicing concerns about how the district decides who needs to be quarantined at home, saying they wanted to ensure they understood how it works and how it impacts students’ ability to stay in the classroom safely.
(Note: to be precise in describing the district’s policy, the Post is using the district’s terminology of “exclusions,” though other districts and the county health department often also refer to exclusions as “quarantines” at home.)
Before Monday, students could be excluded from school if they had close contact with a COVID-positive person, regardless of whether the exposure came indoors or outdoors.
Here is USD 232’s policy on exclusions, which now no longer includes :
- Individuals who are considered contagious with a communicable disease (including COVID-19) will be excluded from school.
- Individuals who are exposed to COVID-19 and are recommended for quarantine by the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment will be excluded from school. Recommendations for quarantines come from the county health department.
- Someone is considered a close contact when within 6 feet of a COVID-positive person for 15 cumulative minutes indoors or during a high-risk activity.
- Contact tracing involves a series of questions about whether both people were masked, have been exposed to COVID-19 or are vaccinated, etc., and could be subject to testing.
- Staff intend to work with excluded students to help them keep up on classwork while they are quarantined at home.
Contact tracing help potentially on the way
Superintendent Frank Harwood also said Monday that the school district is working to tap into the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s Test to Stay grant program, which provides funds to support up to five positions to handle logistics for COVID-19 testing and reporting.
The Test to Stay grant program makes daily testing available for exposed students with parental consent, in order to keep them in school.
Board member Rachele Zade lamented the confusion over the district’s exclusions policy and questioned the contact tracing process to ensure it works correctly.
“My head is spinning looking at this,” Zade said. “And this is no fault, I do not blame our school nurses, our district nurse, but we’ve heard from different parents and patrons that some questions aren’t being asked, the right ones aren’t being asked. This is just so complicated. How do you keep track? There’s got to be a better way to deal with quarantines and isolations.”
Future of masks discussed
The school board also contemplated relaxing the district’s masking policy for high schools, if the Test to Stay program is implemented.
“I think all of us have stated that our goal is to keep the kids in school, and it is difficult and challenging in many, many ways when we have asymptomatic students who are quarantined,” said board member Ashley Spaulding. “Everyone needs to remember that we’re looking out for more than 7,000 students and a thousand staff members.”
The board also discussed possibly moving to optional masks for secondary classrooms, but no action was taken Monday.
The school board may call a special meeting right after the district implements the Test to Stay program, to discuss making masks optional in high school buildings.
Board member Stephanie Makalous made a motion to make masks optional for grades 9-12 after implementing the Test to Stay program, though under certain circumstances that keep quarantines and isolations below 4%.
The motion failed without a second, because other board members expressed a desire for more discussion at a later date.
Board discussion follows a recent COVID-19 outbreak among the De Soto High football team, which had 10 confirmed positive cases.
Football has been considered a “high risk” activity during the pandemic that requires contact tracing, Harwood noted.
Meanwhile, average daily attendance has historically hovered between 96 and 97%, but it’s currently between 94 and 96% so far this school year.
Meanwhile, the proportion of students quarantined at home has mostly stayed under 2% throughout the school year, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard.