It will be difficult, if not impossible, to measure whether or not effective learning occurred for K-12 students in Christian County and the rest of the nation for the 2019-2020 academic year.
Anecdotally, we can generally get behind the idea that many young people get more from their schooling experience when they can engage with their teachers and with other students face-to-face, in a classroom. There are those who do very well in the virtual learning environment and the self-pacing and self discipline that it teaches. However, there will be some students who are left behind their peers if they can’t learn in the hands-on environment of a classroom.
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) made an announcement on Nov. 12 that should help kids who need the structure that classroom learning provides.
Under the updated guidance, proper mask wearing may now prevent individuals from being identified as close contacts in K-12 schools that have implemented a mask mandate. This means that if both individuals at school – the person diagnosed with COVID-19 and the person exposed to the positive case – have masks on and are wearing them correctly, the individual exposed does not need to quarantine.
Exposed individuals should monitor for symptoms and stay home at the first sign of illness. They should also continue to wear a mask at all times to further reduce their likelihood of transmitting the virus. The person who tests positive for COVID-19 is still required to isolate at home. Close contacts in K-12 schools should continue to quarantine at home for 14 days if their school does not require students and staff to wear masks, or if they were not appropriately wearing their masks at the time of exposure.
Dr. Rachel Orscheln is an associate professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Washington University and St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Dr. Orscheln worked closely with the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and DESE throughout the pandemic, providing expertise to ongoing conversations related to K-12 school reopening and operating guidance.
“Given the high rates of COVID-19 in our communities, it is inevitable that some children and adolescents will test positive,” Orscheln said. “We also know that some of these children will likely, at some point in their illness, be at school. However, we have learned that in schools where students and staff are always wearing masks and practicing physical distancing, this virus does not spread as easily as it does in other places where these strategies are not always used.”
In Ozark, the reaction to the announcement was swift. The Ozark School District immediately shifted to the new policy for quarantining.
“We will continue our current quarantine process for students and staff anytime masks are not being worn,” part of a statement from the Ozark R-VI School District reads.
Situations in which students and coaches are playing a contact sport or practicing in close proximity, for example, would likely result in quarantine orders in the event that a participant tests positive for COVID-19.
But for cases in which two people were masked, like two students in the same classroom, and one student tests positive for COVID-19, it’s possible that the exposed student or students would not be ordered to quarantine simply because they were in the same classroom as a COVID-19-positive student.
“Students and staff may only return if both parties were wearing a mask correctly at the time of exposure. Students and staff with symptoms, quarantine based on family, or positive cases will still remain on quarantine,” the Ozark School District’s statement reads.
Communication between students, parents and guardians and school administrators remains of the utmost importance. Students at every school district in Christian County shouldn’t just rush back to school because of the governor’s announcement, or because of what they read on a social media site. It’s always best to wait for a call or an email from the school administration confirming a quarantine or no-quarantine status before returning a child to school.