Sep. 25—Toledo Public Schools will discover starting next week if easing rules forcing students out of classrooms because of possible coronavirus exposure will help lower the district's quarantine rates.
James Gant, a TPS assistant superintendent, said the district modified its guidelines Monday so that students sitting close to a classmate who tests positive for coronavirus will no longer have to quarantine for two weeks so long as both students were masked.
The guidelines don't apply to those who might have been exposed during lunchtime or during extracurricular activities, he said.
Now it won't matter if a student is less than one foot from an infected student in the classroom. As long as masks were in place, nearby students won't automatically have to quarantine, Mr. Gant confirmed.
"The big difference that existed prior to us moving in that direction is really masking played little role into whether we were quarantining or not, and it dealt with distance," he said. "And so if you were within three feet, you would be quarantining regardless of the masking."
TPS' quarantine policy change follows those adopted by nine other Toledo-area districts this month when, in a public letter, superintendents announced they would no longer force students to quarantine under similar circumstances beginning Sept. 7.
That letter — signed by leaders from Anthony Wayne, Maumee, Oregon, Ottawa Hills, Perrysburg, Rossford, Springfield, Sylvania, and Washington Local school leaders — explained they made the rule change after examining case data and talking to area health experts.
"Based on our data, after having excluded/quarantined thousands of students, we know how unlikely it is that a student quarantining due to a COVID-19 school exposure develops into a COVID positive case," the letter reads. "Practically speaking, during the school day, the risk of exposure will primarily be at lunch if students are unmasked and within 3 feet for 15 or more minutes."
Some school districts have been applying those standards for longer, such as Perrysburg Schools, which had been applying that rule since the beginning of the school year. Superintendent Tom Hosler said he and other superintendents signed on to the letter in part to clarify quarantine rules for all those districts that span both Lucas and Wood counties.
The problem, Mr. Hosler explained, is that different county health departments provide varied guidelines on how schools should handle those situations. The result has been for school districts to apply different standards as to when students would be forced to quarantine and for parents to confuse which standards were being applied to their school.
"There as a lot of confusion at the start of the year and so what we wanted to do is highlight what we were doing, because people were jumping into this COVID thing at different places," he said. "Things that are happening in Lucas County, sometimes people read how that county is reading different guidelines and orders and then they apply that to Wood County or other counties and there are some different nuances between the counties in terms of how they phrase things or how they choose to want to implement their policies."
But the less-restrictive quarantine policy won't necessarily lead to fewer students being forced to stay out of the classroom. Student quarantines in TPS fell to 419 on Monday from 487 as of Sept. 12, a 15 percent drop, while Perrysburg's jumped up 53.8 percent, from 130 to 200. Other school districts, such as Washington Local and Sylvania, reported quarantine reductions of fewer than 10 students.
"I think by and large, I think there has been a huge improvement in terms of reducing the number of kids who are quarantining and keeping more kids in school," Mr. Hosler said. "But we still have COVID, and so there are still instances out there where we will likely have to quarantine."
First Published September 25, 2021, 9:00am