Duncan Public Schools (DPS) Superintendent Dr. Tom Deighan announced Tuesday afternoon the Duncan district would not be able to provide in-school quarantine, an option that Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) made available last week.
The option, originally announced Wednesday, Nov. 25 by state health officials, allows Oklahoma school districts to implement in-school quarantine for students potentially exposed to COVID-19.
Instead of sending students home to quarantine after potential classroom exposure, starting Nov. 30 until Dec. 23, districts can opt to allow students to participate in distance-learning in a school-supervised environment.
In order to participate, schools must have a designated space for quarantined students that can accommodate social distancing, the ability to administer rapid testing and constant adult supervision, state health officials said.
Deighan said when the idea of in-school quarantine originally debuted, he was initially excited, but key issues prevent the option from happening.
“Like many of you, I was initially excited about the lessening of quarantine disruption, but DPS cannot provide in-school quarantining under the OSDH pilot policy,” Deighan said.
Issues preventing the option, Deighan said, include timing, testing, training, safety and confidentiality and privacy.
“The in-school quarantine option is only available until Christmas as a pilot program. School districts had no opportunity to prepare for the program, testing, training, etc. DPS would not be able to implement this responsibly in such a short time,” Deighan said. “Currently the rapid tests are not reliably available in the quantities DPS would require. Furthermore, children would be tested eight times over a 14-day period at school, which is excessively invasive for children, especially small children.”
When it comes to training, Deighan said “DPS staff do not currently qualify for OSDH training requirements regarding ‘appropriately trained personnel’ or waivers needed to participate.”
There are also concerns when it comes to safety and privacy.
“DPS cannot reasonably assure the safety of students or staff under these current guidelines, quarantined or non-quarantined. Unfortunately, under this program, quarantined students (and) staff may actually experience extended quarantines under these conditions due to current OSDH tracing guidelines. We have concerns for non-quarantined staff as well,” Deighan said. “Current quarantining guidelines for schools have been a significant burden for many DPS families, but this OSDH policy creates more challenges than relief for DPS schools.”
Deighan said the option “is not a viable option for DPS under current guidelines,” but still hopes OSDH “continues to review and adapt its practices to reduce the disruption of unnecessary quarantines on Oklahoma families.”
Deighan said the district will continue to review this option as the “OSDH policies evolve.”
For more on the in-school quarantine option available to Oklahoma school districts, visit https://www.ossba.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/In-school-quarantine-policy-v2.pdf.
Janelle Stecklein contributed to this story.