Concordia schools ease quarantine rules

Published 5:24 pm Friday, October 15, 2021

VIDALIA — The Concordia Parish School Board on Thursday voted unanimously to lessen the total amount of time unvaccinated students must quarantine after COVID-19 exposure from 14 days to 7.

Superintendent Toyua Watson presented the new policy as a compromise between conflicting guidance offered to schools from the Louisiana Department of Health and the Louisiana Department of Education.

On Sept. 29, LDOE announced the creation of a “parent choice” option for school systems to include in their quarantine determination process.

If a school system decides to implement the parent choice option, mandatory quarantines for students who’ve had close contact — defined as being within three feet of a COVID-19 infected person when either one of them was unmasked for 15 or more minutes — will no longer be required. Instead, the parent or legal guardian would be immediately notified of the exposure and be given the option to quarantine their child or allow them to remain in school as long as they have no symptoms.

Additionally, those parents at the time their child is exposed will be given an opportunity for a no-cost COVID screening for their child.

In regard to the parent choice option, Dr. Cade Brumley, State Superintendent of Education said, “We can no longer ignore the unintended academic consequences of our students unnecessarily missing school. This new, common-sense option empowers parents and local communities with the authority to make health-related decisions for their students.”

Watson said the parents’ choice option was “completely contradictory” to state health department guidance for schools.

“The Louisiana Department of Health called the policy ‘irresponsible’ and governor has also expressed concerns with it,” Watson said.

In a letter, Dr. David Holcombe, member of the Louisiana Public Health Association, stated anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of those in close contact with a known positive person may develop COVID-19 and some will not have any symptoms.

“You are sending a potentially sick child back to school to expose more students and staff,” he stated. “Some states have adopted parental choice-like policies, but these states have extremely high vaccination rates and adhere to strict testing schedules for exposed students. … Louisiana has neither high vaccination rates, nor strict testing mandates for exposed students.”

While many were uncomfortable with the no-quarantine option, school board members agreed there is no substitute learning option better than a child being physically present in a classroom.

“Our goal is to keep the kids in school,” school board member Rickey Raven said.

Amanda Roberts Lemoine, a parent who attended Thursday’s board meeting, said her child had to mandatorily quarantine for 14 days but never developed COVID-19.

“The day he came back to school, he failed every test and he studied daily while he was out,” she said. She added the reason her son had to be sent home is because schools were unable to maintain the minimum three feet of distance in every classroom that the district requires for quarantine exemption. Additionally, he was given a packet of school work but had no option to learn from his teacher virtually, she said.

The alternative option Watson presented requires schools in Concordia Parish to shorten the quarantine for unvaccinated students to no more than seven days and no less than five. Five days from exposure, students can be tested — free of charge if they utilize the schools mobile COVID-19 screening unit — and must present a negative test to their school principal to return to school.

Students do not have to quarantine if they are fully vaccinated and have no symptoms or if both the positive individual and the individual they came in contact with were both wearing face masks consistently and correctly.

“Seven days is the minimum quarantine option provided by the Louisiana Department of Health and this board has stated that we wanted to follow health department guidelines,” Watson said.

In other matters during Thursday’s meeting of the Concordia Parish School Board:

  • Officials received an update on the building of a new gymnasium at Monterey High School.
  • The projected completion date of the new gym is May 1, said Project Manager Bob Bernard of Volkert Inc.
  • Sidney A. Murray Jr. Citizenship Awards were presented to students at each of the parish’s high schools, who attended Thursday’s meeting virtually via Zoom.
  • Board members also discussed creating three-person committee to write a job description for a new athletic director’s position.