Student COVID quarantines not limited by new law

Students at Miamisburg Middle School fill the hallways on the first day of school. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Students at Miamisburg Middle School fill the hallways on the first day of school. TY GREENLEES / STAFF

Governor’s office says law limits school powers, but not health department options

Gov. Mike DeWine’s office says the new law on school COVID protocols should not limit flexibility on student quarantine orders in the same way that it affects school mask policies.

House Bill 244, which takes effect in mid-October, says public schools and universities can’t hold vaccinated and unvaccinated people to different standards on COVID precautions, because the vaccines have not received full FDA approval.

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That’s significant because recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance says the opposite — that unvaccinated people should wear masks indoors, while vaccinated people do not have to.

But DeWine Press Secretary Dan Tierney said while schools set their own mask rules, quarantine orders generally come from county health officials, who are not governed by HB 244. And if students who are told to quarantine show up at school anyway, there are steps to follow that don’t require school-level enforcement.

“There’s a statutory process by which a health department can seek a court order related to someone not complying with quarantine,” Tierney said. “Those issues are completely unrelated to 244.”

Dan Suffoletto, spokesman for Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County, said Friday that he was unsure whether the health district has pursued any court orders to enforce quarantine in the 16-month COVID response. He said he did not think that issue had come up at a school.

Suffoletto said they have not yet issued any new COVID safety guidance to schools.

The first set of K-12 schools to start back begin classes Aug. 9-12. Schools could require different rules for vaccinated and unvaccinated students until HB 244 goes into effect in October. No area schools have indicated they plan to do so.

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Local schools said one big obstacle to overcome last year was students frequently bouncing in and out of quarantine, missing classes and falling behind in their work.

That lessened somewhat after the state said students who were masked and in class when the exposure happened no longer had to quarantine. But if local schools don’t require masks this fall, that could lead the number of quarantine requirements to surge again.

Troy City Schools is among the districts that have already said they plan to have unvaccinated students quarantine if they have close contact with a COVID case while unmasked. Superintendent Chris Piper said that’s the only situation where students would be asked about COVID vaccination status.

For years, families have submitted their students’ vaccination records to schools, but local schools have been hesitant to ask for COVID vaccination records, amid a charged political atmosphere.

Tierney emphasized two points about HB 244. First, the governor’s office hopes the law is moot, saying they expect the FDA to grant the COVID vaccines full approval before the law would take effect in mid-October.

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Multiple news agencies reported Friday that the FDA had granted a “priority review” of the Pfizer vaccine. The target date for an FDA decision was listed anywhere from “two months” to “soon” to “January.”

Tierney also reminded the public that HB 244 does not prevent schools from mandating masks and social distancing. The law just means it has to be a one-size-fits-all approach — rather than holding vaccinated and unvaccinated students to different standards.

Tierney called the COVID-19 vaccines “very safe and very effective.”

“Certainly, a business or (school) would have the opportunity to choose, make everybody mitigate by wearing a mask and social distancing if that’s their choice,” Tierney said. “Those choices are up to each entity.”