In this file photo from March 17, staff at Paul Habans Charter School in New Orleans hand out supplies including food, books and computers to students and the community as Louisiana schools shut down because of the spread of coronavirus and COVID-19 cases. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
The Louisiana Department of Education on Monday adopted a new policy — based on guidance from the federal government — that allows those who may have been exposed to COVID-19 to shorten their quarantine period from 14 to 10 days. If the exposed person receives a negative COVID-19 test, the quarantine period can be reduced even further to seven days.
Each of the state’s roughly 1,700 public schools will be able to choose whether to implement the shorter quarantine period or continue with the longer 14-day period.
“This is part of our guidance to schools,” Department of Education spokesman Ted Beasley said in an email. “They can choose the situation that works best in their local community.”
A handful of school superintendents attended a state House Health and Welfare Committee meeting Nov. 23 to complain to a sympathetic committee that the 14-day quarantine period was too long. Some said the rules often forced schools to send home disproportionately large numbers of healthy students compared to very small positive case counts.
Rapides Parish Schools Superintendent Jeff Powell told the committee that his school system, at that point, had 227 students test positive or about 1.14 percent of the 22,000 students enrolled, yet they’ve had to quarantine 4,072 students, he said.
“We just ask that this be opened back up,” Powell said at the time, asking for details of the state’s quarantine policy to be reconsidered. Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, said school-aged children are able to survive COVID-19 better than any other age group and should therefore be able to handle a higher risk of exposure. “I just don’t see the need to keep kids home 14 days like that when they’re the least at risk for this,” Rep. Crews said.
The health department had in fact already begun studying to see if the quarantine period could be shortened, Rep. Dustin Miller, D-Opelousas, said at the committee meeting.
State education officials adopted the new quarantine period shortly after the Louisiana Department of Health received the guidance Monday from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“We support the decision of the Louisiana Department of Health to align guidance with the updated recommendations made by the CDC,” Education Superintendent Cade Brumley said in a press release. “It’s important that our schools are open and functioning properly. The LDOE and our school leaders will continue to work alongside health officials to mitigate the spread of the virus.”
Brumley said Louisiana schools have not been found to be “super spreaders” of the coronavirus and have so far been able to avoid widespread closures. He attributed this to mitigation efforts such as small group sizes, face coverings, social distancing and hand washing.
“We must remain vigilant until this pandemic ends — especially now during the holiday season,” Brumley said. “I also want to share my continued appreciation to the entire team at the Louisiana Department of Health for supporting the LDOE and our 1,700 schools through this global pandemic. I believe our work and our collaboration could be a model for the rest of the country.”
The Department of Education is working with the health department and other medical professionals to disseminate the updated guidance online at louisianabelieves.com.
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