The letter detailed changes for students citing statistics about the fall term’s COVID-19 positive tests compared to the number of students who have endured quarantine. The letter went to the governor, health department director, education commissioner as well as Senator Dan Hegeman and Representative Allen Andrews. It is printed in its entirety below.
October 20, 2020
MO Department of Health & Senior Services Deputy Director Fischer,
Department of Elementary & Secondary Education Commissioner Vandeven:
On behalf of the children and families in our communities, we as a collective group of school superintendents from Northwest Missouri request changes in quarantine guidance given to our county health departments. We feel sufficient evidence exists to support our suggestions and respectfully request your immediate consideration.
We suggest the following changes to quarantine recommendations for students:
1. Shorten the length of quarantine.
a. Many of our local health experts have shared evidence of approximately 5 days as the optimal range for symptom onset. A shortened quarantine, perhaps 5 or 7 days, would respect this contagious window and simultaneously preserve students’ education.
2. Eliminate a quarantine if the close contact with a positive occurred while both individuals were wearing face coverings.
a. Many of our districts, and some towns, have mask mandates. Staff and students are following these to add layers of protection. If wearing the face covering would eliminate the need for quarantine, compliance would be viewed more favorably, easier to explain, and preserve students’ education.
We believe the positive impacts of making either or both of these changes far outweigh the potential consequence of spreading the virus. Our districts are all hosting in-person classes, and there doesn’t seem to be many students contracting or spreading the virus. In a poll of 20 school districts in rural Northwest Missouri, a total of 1,430 students have suffered through at least one quarantine during this fall term. Some have endured multiple quarantines. Of these, only 59 students (4.1 percent of those quarantined or .0046 percent of these districts’ total enrollment of 12,732 students) have actually tested positive for Covid-19. Generalizing the typical school day is in the vicinity of seven hours and a quarantine is for ten weekdays, this means 95,970 hours (or 13,710 school days) have been missed by 1,379 healthy kids already this year.
The list of positive consequences resulting from changing quarantine recommendations is longer:
• Improved Education – The best education is face-to-face with a dedicated, engaging teacher. Our students are struggling with remote learning needed during extended absences. The younger the student, the more difficult remote learning is. Many can’t independently manipulate the technology and don’t have needed adult support at home. While we’re providing devices and internet to families, many are challenged with no broadband or fiber service, making connection a struggle. The time missed in the classroom with a teacher cannot be regained or replicated. Students are failing courses they’d be successful in if they were attending school.
• Improved Supervision – Students, particularly young ones, need supervision as most parents have to work. Finding suitable daycare is challenging in the best of times, but with Covid-19, it is even worse. We are seeing more and more young children left home all day, multiple days in a row, with no one to encourage schoolwork or physical activity and no one to discourage risky behaviors.
• Improved Mental Health – Students are feeling frustrated, anxious, and distracted. They are often more worried by the fear of quarantine than they are by contracting the actual illness. Sadly, this is true for a lot of school staff, as well.
•Improved Nutrition – Many students depend on the school to eat. Despite the extended availability of meals through food services, we know some students at home are still not getting the nutrition they need.
• Improved Working Conditions for Teachers – Teachers are hard working, dedicated professionals, but Covid-19 has significantly increased their workload. Not only do teachers have to continue their normal responsibilities, they are also accountable for dozens of students with extended absences. Keeping students who are out of the classroom for two consecutive weeks current and engaged is beyond challenging. Sometimes, half the class is absent for quarantine, and teachers must juggle in-person with remote learning while having only 50 minutes per day to plan in Missouri where the average teacher salary ranks 49th lowest out of all 50 states.
We understand our nation, state, and communities, are in a public health crisis. However, the quarantines of school age children are resulting in an educational crisis. Lengthy quarantines are disrupting families, workplaces, schools, and even local economies. School officials and county health employees are inundated with patron outcry to the point that it’s difficult to conduct normal business. A shortened quarantine period would ease this burden and dramatically reduce negative consequences for children. Healthy students need a quicker return to school to learn, eat, interact with peers, and benefit from adult supervision and guidance.
We also understand the importance of public health, hierarchy, and rules. While some counties are electing not to follow guidance, we prefer to work collaboratively with you to find appropriate middle ground, and we believe a shortened quarantine period is it. Our local health departments indicate the need for your guidance and approval on this issue so we welcome an opportunity at your convenience to further discuss our suggestions or other viable options.
Please see signature lines for phone numbers and email addresses where we can be reached.
Respectfully on behalf of Northwest Missouri Rural Superintendents,
Becky Albrecht, Maryville R-II School District; Danny Johnson, King City School District; Mitch Barnes, West Nodaway; Karma Coleman, Tarkio; Matt Martz, Worth County; Ethan Sickels, Rock Port; Brenda Dougan, Northeast Nodaway; Johnnie Silkett, South Nodaway R-IV; Korey Miles, Mound City; Mark McDaniel, North Andrew; Bob Heddinger, Stanberry; Jeff Blackford, Nodaway-Holt R-VII; Chris Turpin, North Nodaway; R-VI Bob Ottman, South Holt; Tim Jermain, Jefferson; Dustin Freeman, Albany.