When Cade Brumley was chosen to lead public schools in Louisiana in May 2020, we stood strong behind his selection because we believed he was a good choice, an experienced educator with great people skills and strategic vision. We also liked that he might “shake things up” that needed additional assessment and review.
But we didn’t have his new COVID-19 quarantine policy in mind.
Without consulting Gov. John Bel Edwards, Louisiana health officer Dr. Joe Kanter or the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Brumley announced a change in the state education quarantine policy last month.
Under the previous policy, any student who came in close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 was sent home to quarantine for several days or longer. Brumley updated the policy to put that decision in the hands of parents. The change means schoolchildren can continue to attend school if parents, or legal guardians, decide that’s what’s best for their kids.
We disagree with that approach. Parents come with all kinds of backgrounds, experiences and knowledge and we should not put thousands of schoolchildren at risk because one or more parents think a positive virus exposure may not be bad enough to keep a child out of school. Health professionals across the nation and in Louisiana have argued consistently that it’s best to quarantine when anyone is exposed. It stops the spread of the virus and limits the number of people who might get infected, get sick and get hospitalized. It also limits the number of people who might get sick enough that they die.
Parents are not necessarily best positioned to make decisions that have an impact on other school students, teachers, administrators and staff. That is why some school systems are sticking with the old policy. They are right to do so.
Brumley was a successful school superintendent in DeSoto Parish then in Jefferson Parish, the latter the largest public system in the state. He built a reputation for building coalitions, providing long-term vision and listening. Unfortunately, his decision-making fell short because he did not consult our elected state education leaders, state health officials or the governor.
Brumley said the change was necessary because too many students were losing valuable in-person education time. Everybody wants children in school, learning. But at what cost?
Edwards said he was pleased when Brumley was chosen. He said he disagreed with the quarantine decision. Kanter expressed grave concern, saying the decision might mean an impact that is even more negative on learning loss as it leads to a cycle of more outbreaks, forcing quarantines on reluctant parents and school leaders.
Quarantining is an important safety tool as the pandemic continues. It is more important for our children while we wait on Food and Drug Administration approval of vaccines that are safe for children under 12 years old. The extremely dangerous delta variant has found its way into more young bodies. Children had more than 25% of virus cases reported recently, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
We encourage Brumley to consult those responsible for state health and education leaders. Meanwhile, we encourage school districts to operate by the previous policy. It’s best for our kids and the lives of all of us.