On Dec. 30, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced a new set of quarantine guidelines schools may opt to use in the coming school year, based on a study of multiple districts statewide. Lakota Local Schools participated in the study and now hope the new guidelines can prevent unnecessary disruption to student education.
The CDC currently advises that any student exposed to COVID-19 should quarantine for two weeks at home and participate in school virtually, a policy Ohio has enforced since the start of the pandemic. After results of the study were examined, DeWine announced schools can opt to adopt newly approved guidelines that state students who have come into contact with a COVID-19 positive person do not have to quarantine as long as the school and classes they attend are enforcing strict masking and social distancing rules.
"Obviously we want them to be safe," said Matt Miller, superintendent of Lakota Local Schools. "We always want that. But we just didn't see the spread as a result of people having to be quarantined."
Preliminary results from the Ohio Schools COVID-19 Evaluation Team found that if students are appropriately masked and distanced in classroom settings, they do not have an increased risk of catching the virus from a COVID-19-positive student nearby, DeWine said during the December announcement.
Miller said that, under the CDC's recommendations, the district often quarantined staff and students who never tested positive for or exhibited symptoms of COVID-19.
"I've had students here at Lakota who have been through three rounds of 14-day quarantine," said Miller. "I can't tell you how frustrating that is for the parents and families when their kids have no symptoms and aren't getting sick."
The new guidelines are so far just another option for schools, and districts are not mandated to adopt them over the CDC's guidelines. The decision on which method to implement is up to the discretion of each district throughout the state.
After participating in the state's study, alongside Mason City Schools and Princeton Schools, Miller said Lakota plans to move to the new guidelines when they welcome students back in a hybrid model on Tuesday. The district plans to return to full-time, in-person learning for those who want it on Jan. 19.
"We're trying to be as safe as possible in face-to-face learning," said Miller. "We know that's important for our kids, for our families and for our staff. But, again, it's not easy."
The new guidelines do not apply to sports or other extra-curricular activities, DeWine said in December, and only apply for normal classroom settings where masking is constant and social distancing is enforced. Students who have been exposed to COVID-19 must still quarantine from these activities.