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State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley last week asked state health officials to allow public schools to use the new federal guidelines for quarantining students and teachers during the coronavirus pandemic.   

State health officials Monday gave public schools and others the go ahead to relax quarantine rules during the coronavirus pandemic after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened its guidelines.

Under the new policy, students, teachers and staff can end their quarantine after seven days if they test negative for the coronavirus and show no symptoms and after 10 days without a test if no symptoms surface.

The previous policy required quarantines of 14 days for students and others who come in close contact with someone who tested positive.

State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said last week the 14-day rule was posing problems for schools and that most students sent home were because of the quarantine rule, not because they tested positive.

"We support the decision of the Louisiana Department of Health to align guidance with the updated recommendations by the CDC," Brumley said in a statement. "It's important that our schools are open and functioning properly."

District superintendents also made a pitch for more relaxed rules and said the previous policy threatened school operations.

The quarantines are designed to isolate students, teachers and others who may have contracted the the virus without knowing it.

The CDC issued its revised guidelines last week.

The state Department of Health is recommending retaining the 14-day quarantine period for nursing homes and prisons.

A total of 46% of public school students are attending in-person classes.

The rest either rely on virtual learning or a combination of virtual instruction and in-person classes.

The state Department of Education, unlike those in some states, does not collect data on how many students have been quarantined.

In a statement, the state Department of Health, in announcing the new policy, noted that the shorter quarantine periods "do come with a risk that a person may be infectious when he or she leaves quarantine, and should be carefully evaluated when weighing options."

The chance that someone who was quarantined and left early could transmit the virus to someone else if they become infected is up to 10% after 10 days and up to 12% after seven days, according to the agency.

The change was announced by Dr. Joseph Kanter, interim assistant secretary for the Office of Public Health.

Wes Watts, president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents and superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish School District, praised the announcement.

"This will help our students and employees," Watts said in an email.

"We have proven that our schools can operate safely."

"Students that are healthy had to quarantine, some multiple times, because of being a close contact with someone that tested positive," he said.

"This has caused them to miss valuable class time and school activities," Watts said. "We are grateful the LDH made this decision."

Brumley said public schools have been shown not to be super spreaders of the virus.

"We believe continued adherence to our mitigation efforts such as group sizes, face coverings, physical distancing and hand washing are critically important," he said.

"We must remain vigilant until this pandemic ends, especially during the holiday season."

The new policy was sent to school districts Monday.

Gov. John Bel Edwards last month ordered bars and other services into a modified version of Phase 2, back from the looser Phase 3 rules, amid the rising number of cases in Louisiana.

However, Edwards said it is up to individual school districts to decide whether to remain in Phase 3 or a new version of Phase 2.

Phase 3 allows school buses to operate at 75% of capacity, which is a key factor in increasing the number of students using classrooms rather than depending on virtual learning.

State Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, also backed Monday's announcement.

"Right now every possible day in a traditional classroom is essential for our students," Hewitt said. "These new guidelines will maximize in-person instruction time while keeping students and teachers safe."


Email Will Sentell at wsentell@theadvocate.com.