Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has asked the Ohio Department of Health to work out the details for a pilot program proposed by Warren County school superintendents that would allow unvaccinated students exposed to coronavirus at schools without a mask mandate to remain in class.
Last week, Warren County’s 10 school superintendents sent a letter seeking to implement a pilot program to keep kids in school who may have been exposed to COVID-19 but are healthy and exhibit no symptoms.
Under ODH guidelines, students exposed to coronavirus should be required to be quarantined at home if they’re not vaccinated and their school doesn’t require face masks, social distancing and other COVID-19 prevention policies.
“If this is successful...this will be something that we would hope we would roll out and make available for our other schools around the state of Ohio,” DeWine said during a press conference. “It’s one more effort, one more attempt to do everything we can do keep our kids in schools.”
Superintendent Tom Isaacs of the Warren County Educational Services Center said he and the district’s superintendents have been meeting for the past two years and have included representatives from the Warren County Health Department.
“Our quarantines have skyrocketed because we are quarantining healthy kids,” Isaacs said. “We wanted to have a plan to keep healthy kids in school.”
Since the start of school two weeks ago, Warren County school districts have sent hundreds of students home to be quarantined due to possible exposures to COVID-19 as well as other seasonal illnesses. Due to the skyrocketing absence rates, the Lebanon and Carlisle school districts opted to close until after Labor Day to help students and staff recover and complete quarantines.
The multi-tiered plan provides when an unvaccinated student, who is not wearing a mask, is identified as a close contact, the following three options would be given to families:
- Traditional quarantine: Ten days at home or return to schools on day seven with proof of a negative test result on day five, six, or seven.
- Mandatory mask quarantine: If the student is symptom-free, he/she is allowed to return to school wearing a mask for 10 days.
- Modified mask and testing quarantine: If the student is symptom-free, they are allowed to return to school wearing a mask. On day five, they will have the option to take a rapid test at school. If the test results are negative, they will continue to follow the current mask status for their specific school and grade level.
Superintendents from Carlisle, Kings, Lebanon, Little Miami Local, Franklin City, Mason City, Springboro Community, Wayne Local, Warren County Career Center, Clinton Massie, Monroe, and Warren County ESC signed the proposal to the governor’s office.
In the letter, school officials stated that because they’ve been quarantining healthy students at home, it harms students’ mental health, hurts educators’ ability to teach, sows “distrust and anger” in the community and financially hurts students’ parents and caretakers.
“The division and distrust that we are experiencing this year is at an all-time high,” the letter stated. “If we are going to keep our students safe, our schools open, and our communities from dividing any further, we need to improve our strategy for living life with COVID-19.”
Isaacs said DeWine and Vanderhoff agreed to the pilot project, but Vanderhoff added a testing component that would require a COVID-19 test on the third day after exposure, and a second test in days five through seven.
However, if a student has symptoms, they need to stay home.
Isaacs said the pilot program is voluntary and parents will have the option to determine if their student will participate.
He said the state health department is shipping test kits to the Warren County ESC which will be distributed to the school districts.
“The Warren County superintendents are grateful to the governor to allow this pilot project,” Isaacs said. “This joint program is another example of the school districts working together to keep the schools open.”
To help with the testing, Warren County Commission President David Young confirmed that the county will partner with the school districts and use federal COVID-19 funds to provide a nurse for each district to do the testing.
Young said he’s been in a lot of meetings with the superintendents for more than a year and a half as they worked to keep kids in school.
“Warren County came up with the right idea and I am glad the folks in Columbus and the governor are using common sense to solve this problem,” he said. “Tom (Isaacs) asked if the county could help out, and I said ‘heck, yes!’”
Young said the commissioners will consider a resolution at its Tuesday meeting to provide the nurses for each district on a contract basis to do the testing.
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