At this point in the pandemic, most parents are familiar with the “covid notification” letters. But the letter instructions as to whether or not your child should quarantine varies wildly from school to school.

In Minneapolis, students exposed to covid-19 at school are supposed to self-quarantine for 10 days. In the suburban Anoka-Hennepin school district, a single exposure does not trigger contact tracing or quarantine.

In Andover, Kansas, schools follow quarantine protocols set by county health departments. With students from different counties attending the same school, those sitting next to each other in classrooms could be quarantined based on two sets of rules.

In Anchorage and many schools in Texas, close contacts of classmates who test positive for covid have the option to stay in class or self-quarantine. In suburban Chicago, siblings of students with symptom of covid are required to self-quarantine until their siblings test negative.

The number and complexity of school quarantine policies – in Fort Mill, South Carolina, eight pages of advice telling students when to quarantine – has left many parents feeling like there is little rhyme or reason. reason to quarantine a child and not a classmate. Sometimes the rules seem to vary within families: Christina Kennedy, a teacher in Bend, Oregon, got a call when her son was exposed to a positive case in August, and he had to self-quarantine. But when her daughter was in close contact with a positive case, no call ever came.

“Unfortunately, we have a natural experiment going on across the country when it comes to reopening schools, especially when it comes to quarantine,” said Dr Leana Wen, professor of public health at the University. George Washington. “Some of them are understandable, but there is certainly a piecemeal approach when it comes to various approaches. “

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention call for quarantining unvaccinated children exposed to someone who tests positive for covid for a locally determined period of time. But a state, county, or school district decision to impose a quarantine requirement is random. An informal coalition that advocates for in-person learning, Ed300, found that 31 states do not automatically quarantine students against close contact.

“What we have learned from this pandemic is that when there is no directive, school districts will behave on their own and you will get those kinds of results – good, bad or whatever,” said David Law, Superintendent of Anoka-Hennepin School in Minnesota. District.

Schools in his state operate independently, Law noted.

This is true in many other areas as well. “County health directors and officials have a lot of leeway,” said Leslie Bienen, a parent involved with Ed300 and faculty member at Oregon Health & Science University-Portland State University School of Public Health.

“The quarantine could last seven or 14 days,” Bienen said, and local officials have a lot to say in determining who is considered close contact – defined by the CDC as having been within 6 feet of someone for a cumulative total of at least 15 minutes over a 24 hour period. But the agency also recommended that schools maintain at least 3 feet of distance between students.

Local control isn’t necessarily a bad thing – schools should be the ones making their rules, Wen said – but that’s why things can look so different from school to school, regardless of their location. proximity.

Kennedy, the Bend, Ore., A teacher, works at a private school while her husband teaches at a public school attended by her children.

“The private school is much more prone to closing entire classrooms than the public school,” Kennedy said. “I know of three entire classrooms closed since September in my private school” while none have been closed in the public system.

Districts in the same county, under the supervision of the same public health officials, manage it differently, she said. “Nothing is coherent. They say it’s all science based, but we’re not allowed to question or report anything. Why is it like that here and like that there? It’s super frustrating as a parent and a teacher, ”Kennedy said.

Another common complaint is that policies differ depending on whether students are there for school or for extracurricular activities or whether it is a community or sporting event. “What really irritates our community is that you can show up to a community event at school or spend four hours at a sporting event and no one is quarantined, but you can sit next to someone. ‘one for 40 minutes during the school day and out of school for 10 days,’ Law said.

The confusion has left many parents wondering if policy makers have done their homework.

Jessica Butler Bell, vice president of communications for Webster Elementary’s PTA in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District in California, said parents are asking, “Are we really following science? Or are we too careful? It has to be rooted in logic, and I think people are asking, “Have you thought about this? “”

Bienen co-wrote an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal titled ‘It’s Madness for Quarantined Schoolchildren,’ citing research showing that only a small percentage of quarantined students ended up being tested positive for covid following contact at school. The group also claims that data from Portland Public Schools shows that students who attend Title I schools – those who receive special federal funding because they serve large numbers of low-income families – are more likely to be quarantined.

“Children with means go on vacation or to stay with their grandparents when they are quarantined,” Kennedy noted. “It’s good for them, but what about the kids who don’t have parents at home?” They are sitting at home without learning, without food, without services. This exacerbates inequalities. “

But parents are also upset when the rules fail: Wen said he heard of parents doing their own informal contact tracing when they thought their schools were not doing a thorough job.

Complicated policies have other implications. Some parents are reluctant to test their children, Kennedy said, for fear that a positive test will force them to quit school or activities. And in some schools, she added, teachers are delaying handing over room maps to school nurses or other public health officials for contact tracing, knowing children may need to be quarantined. after sharing the information.

Some schools are experimenting with a possible solution: replacing quarantines with a “test-to-stay” policy. Under such a policy, any student considered close contact could take a rapid test and show a negative result to stay in school and avoid quarantine.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky recently noted that “we are working with states to assess a testing policy to stay as a promising potential new strategy for schools. And we anticipate that there will be directives to come.

Wen said she was optimistic the policy could help. “It’s a way to prevent children from dropping out of school.

In Santa Monica-Malibu, one frustration Butler Bell hears from parents is that there is no plan to end quarantines and other layers of protection.

Parents often feel their concerns are being overlooked, Kennedy said. “Yes [decision-makers] spent an hour in a real classroom, they would make different decisions, ”she said.

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