Amid complaints, state Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said Friday he has asked Louisiana health officials to allow public schools to adopt new federal guidelines that would trim the time students are quarantined because of contact tracing.
Under new rules announced this week by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, quarantine times can be reduced from the current 14 days to seven or 10 days after exposure to someone who tests positive for the coronavirus.
Brumley's request was submitted to the state Department of Health and was one of the topics of discussion Friday in a conference call with about 300 superintendents and other educators.
"We are continuing as of today to work with LDH to settle on guidelines that will be pushed out to our schools in the very near future," Brumley said in an interview after the meeting.
The request comes at a time when superintendents are complaining that lots of students statewide are being forced to quarantine, some for multiple times, and that doing so is having an impact on school operations.
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"We are seeing that schools are not super-spreader locations," Brumley said. "But it is the quarantine process that is a challenge."
"And further the instances in which schools are being closed or forced to go to virtual more often than not are as a result of the numbers of individuals being quarantined, not students who are positive with the virus," he said. "It might become more difficult for a school to run their bus routes or staff their cafeterias or teachers to cover classrooms because of the quarantine, not because individuals are sick."
A spokesperson for the state Department of Health said Friday the agency received the request. When a decision will be announced is unclear.
The superintendent, who began the job on June 8, said education leaders are still relying on medical advice for help navigating students through the school year.
"Even this morning we had our medical professionals on the call," he said.
"We remain in constant communication with our medical professionals and seek their advice on everything that we are doing to manage COVID in our schools and that has proven to be successful," Brumley said.
The state will rely on the results of the 2018-19 school report cards to show how classrooms are faring since key tests were canceled earlier …
COVID-19 is the illness caused by the virus.
Last month several superintendents, including the president of the Louisiana Association of Superintendents, told a legislative panel that schools needed relief from the 14-day quarantine requirement.
Superintendents said at the time they hoped the quarantine period could be trimmed from 14 days to 10, before the CDC said 10 days and seven would be allowable.
Wes Watts, president of the superintendents group and superintendent of the West Baton Rouge Parish School District, said Friday his organization backs Brumley's request.
"The vast majority of our quarantines are for close contacts and not because they are sick (positive)," Watts said in an email.
The state Department of Education does not collect data from local school districts on how many students are quarantined.
Jim Garvey, a Metairie attorney and the longest-serving member of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said he supports Brumley's request. "Although this is a serious health issue it is different for different groups of people in our society," Garvey said Friday.
"The elderly are much more exposed to this issue. The statistics, however, say that school age students are not."
The new CDC guidelines were released at a time when cases of the virus and hospitalizations are rising nationally and in Louisiana.
Gov. John Bel Edwards last month ordered the state into a modified version of Phase 2, back from Phase 3, for the reopening of its economy amid concerns about increased cases in the third wave of the virus.
Quarantines are aimed at preventing the spread of the virus from students and others exposed to those with positive cases before they know they are infected.
The new CDC rules would allow quarantines to end after seven days if the person tests negative and shows no symptoms and after 10 days with no testing if no symptoms have been reported.
The state Department of Education says 46% of public school students are taking in-person classes.
The rest are relying on virtual instruction or a combination of in-person and virtual classes, called hybrid.