January 17, 2021
Governor Stitt held a press conference last week and announced Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) new proposed guidance related to quarantine protocols for students in Oklahoma schools.
The non-mandatory changes to quarantine protocols:
• Pertain ONLY to students exposed in a classroom setting.
• Authorize schools to modify the quarantine protocols to allow students to remain in SOME classes IF everyone in the classroom is wearing a mask appropriately (always covering the mouth and nose) AND the exposed individual (close contact)
is not exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. The guidance further states all close contacts would be monitored daily for 4 weeks.
• DO NOT APPLY to students exposed to COVID at home, during out-of-school activities, or during in-school activities where increased respiratory exertion (such as band, music classes/choir, PE, spirit teams, sports, and recess for our younger students) occurs. Students participating in these activities represent a great deal of quarantines, and they would not be excused by the new guidelines.
o Applying this guidance would result in close contacts being able to attend SOME classes while being EXCLUDED from other classes or activities where masks are not typically worn, which would cause logistic and supervision concerns. Close contacts would still be excluded from public settings until quarantine criteria is met.
With the high risk-level and positivity rates in Oklahoma, now is not the time to let our guard down. Instead, it is a time for increased vigilance in following the CDC guidelines developed over time with cooperation and input from thousands of medical professionals, epidemiologists, and public health experts. We will continue to follow practices that are
evidence-based and have worked for us to control the spread of COVID-19. During this school year, we have had 320 of our over 5,000 students and staff test positive for COVID-19. Seventy-five (75) of the many close contacts involving school close contact tracing have become cases while in quarantine, which equates to less than 1% (change). Many of these close contacts have been siblings of cases living in the same household. We cannot definitively tie spread back to school, but we do see evidence of possible spread in activities, close friend interactions, and self-contained, high risk classrooms. We are not willing to risk changing our current protocols with such high risk-levels.
Additionally, there are concerns related to the level of safety provided under these new guidelines. The proposed guidance refers to a small-scale study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The Oklahoma Chapter of the AAP quickly rebutted in a statement issued citing that the guidance does not adhere to the recommendations from the AAP or CDC and should not be applied. The State Department of Education was not consulted in the development of the new standards and does not endorse these recommendations.
PCPS respects the Governor’s desire for students to be in school for in-person instruction. We will remain focused on prioritizing in-person instruction and opportunities for our students and thankfully, we have had more in-person instructional days than anticipated due to our rigid protocols. However, we will not compromise when it comes to the health and safety of our students, staff, and families especially when COVID case counts, hospitalizations, and fatalities are at all-time highs.
We have all grown weary of this horrific pandemic and we want things to return to normal. With vaccination in process, we are hopeful this normalcy will come soon. In the meantime, we must continue to work together to protect our students, staff, families, and community.
Superintendent, Ponca City Public Schools