Oklahoma Students Could Quarantine Together At School In New Experiment

Dec 3, 2020

Updated December 8 at 4:22 p.m.

A Mustang Public Schools spokesman wrote in an email to StateImpact that no students have signed up for the district's in-school quarantine program. If any students do sign up in the coming days, spokesman Kirk Wilson wrote, "we will evaluate the amount of time remaining for the program and determine if it is feasible.  Ultimately, the program may not materialize."

ORIGINAL POST

A limited number of Mustang High School students exposed to the coronavirus will have the option to attend class with their peers who may also have the disease.

The move – an in school quarantine pilot program – was highly touted by Oklahoma state officials like State Commissioner of Health Lance Frye in a press conference Wednesday afternoon.

“I believe that this will be the first school in the nation to do a program like this,” Frye said. “And it’s a very proud and big moment for us.”

The district is certainly first in the state to participate in the program announced by Oklahoma’s Department of Health last week. It allows students to quarantine together in school. Frye said Wednesday other schools have expressed interest to participate as well.

Students in the new quarantine pods must wear masks and be socially distanced.

The move comes after backlash to quarantining around the state. Some students weren’t staying home for 14-day periods after exposure.

The experimental nature of the program will shed light on how quarantining could work in schools, state officials said.

“We feel confident that this pilot will further our understanding of disease transmission within the classroom,” Frye said.

The proposed policy, though, hasn’t been popular with teacher groups like the Oklahoma Education Association.

“Educators are not guinea pigs to be used as an experiment to see how a deadly pandemic spreads through schools,” OEA President Alicia Priest said in a written statement to StateImpact. “We are degreed and trained professionals who deserve a safe and healthy working environment. Putting students and staff in this ‘in-school quarantine’ petri dish to see what happens is dangerous and irresponsible!”

The Oklahoman reported that at first, the program would accommodate 20 high school students for the remainder of the semester. The district has had hundreds of students quarantining at times.

Mustang will space the 20 students in two classrooms and seats will be more than eight feet apart.

“We are looking forward to collecting any data that would help us for our long term goals of providing face to face instruction on an ongoing basis,” Mustang superintendent Charles Bradley said.

The state experiment’s window closes on December 23, but Frye said it could continue into the spring.

Newly revised CDC guidelines suggest quarantining at home for seven days if you test negative or 10 days if you haven’t been tested, after being exposed to someone with the coronavirus.

Districts around the state have been bucking old quarantine rules that demanded students stay out of school for two weeks.

Mustang is currently in distance learning through Dec. 4 because of case transmission rates in Canadian County. But the quarantined students could come to school even if distance learning continues.

In a letter to parents, the district said it’s had 3,548 people enter quarantine protocols during the school year. Only 44 of those people later tested positive, though the district acknowledged many people who were asymptomatic never got tested.

Participation in the program is optional. According to a news release from Mustang Schools, students who participate will:

  • attend school in a socially distanced environment and away from contact with non-quarantined students/staff;
  • remain in the space at all times during the school day except for breaks for restroom and outside time;
  • maintain social distancing of AT LEAST 6 feet within the quarantine space;
  • be required to wear masks at all times except when eating;
  • will be tested repeatedly (at least on days 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 12, and 14 of quarantine) using the Binax Now rapid diagnostic test. This is the mid-nasal rapid test provided to the schools by the OSDH AND any student who tests positive for COVID-19 (either at school, or a different test performed by another qualified testing facility) shall immediately enter isolation and will no longer be permitted in the in-school quarantine program;
  • not be permitted to participate in extracurricular activities; ride buses to or from school; attend after-school events; or be in any other situations where contact with non-quarantined persons is likely;
  • be supervised by MPS staff members during their participation in the [in-school quarantine]

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