Updated on Jan. 12, 2021 at 5:55 p.m. — Guthrie Public Schools responded to the governor’s new policy on forgoing the mandatory two-week quarantine period for potential COVID-19 exposures.
The school district says they are awaiting more details before taking action. In the meantime, all quarantines will continue for Guthrie students.
This afternoon, Governor Stitt and the Oklahoma State Department of Health announced changes to the procedures for quarantining students in the schools of our state. We are awaiting specific details of the changes discussed at today’s press conference. When those details are provided to us, we will evaluate if changes are needed in our COVID-19 Protocols or practices. We continue to await official guidance from the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Oklahoma State Department of Education. All quarantines will continue until we receive such guidance. At that time, we will evaluate each quarantine individually for potential modification. Thank you for your continued patience as we navigate the events of today.
Governor Kevin Stitt announced today that Oklahoma schools following safety protocols, including mask-wearing and social distancing, will be permitted to forgo the mandatory two-week quarantine period for potential COVID-19 exposures.
Protocols include wearing masks, social distancing and maintaining recommended cleaning measures.
“The data continues to show in person learning is safe,” Stitt said.
The announcement of “guidance” and not policy came on Tuesday afternoon at a press conference inside the Governor’s Large Conference Room at the Oklahoma State Capitol.
As part of the new policy, schools should continue to require quarantines for exposed students in situations where masking and distancing protocols were not followed. Additionally, the updated quarantine guidance does not apply if the exposure occurs during after-school activities, including sports. Anyone who tests positive for COVID-19 must continue to isolate regardless where they contracted the virus or were wearing a mask.
“Schools that enforce the wearing of masks will not have to quarantine potential exposures unless they are showing symptoms. This is what’s best for our students. Period. End of story,” Stitt said.
Commissioner of Health Dr. Lance Frye said schools should continue to quarantine students if exposure occurs in situations where protocols were not followed.
The change does not apply if the exposure comes outside of the classroom setting.
“Students and teachers exposed to someone who test positive for COVID-19 at school will no longer be required to quarantine as long as the exposure happened in a classroom setting, everyone was wearing a mask and following other appropriate protocols such as social distancing,” Frye said. “Schools should continue to require quarantines for exposed students in situations where masking and distancing protocols were not followed.”
For Guthrie Public Schools, the district continues to go to school five days a week as they have since the start of the school year. In September, the district required masks for students (fifth grade and up), teachers, staff and visitors while inside a building or school vehicle.
State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister released a statment following the press conference.
“The ramifications of the pandemic on education have been challenging and severe. While this option underscores the need for mask requirements in school, I cannot in good conscience support ignoring quarantine guidelines from the CDC and other infectious disease experts. There is no doubt we all want our students and teachers to be safely in the classroom, but COVID is raging in Oklahoma. In-person instruction is critical, and so is mitigating the spread of the virus. They are not mutually exclusive.”
State Democrats said they appreciate the governor’s stance on masks in schools, but says he needs to do more.
“While I applaud the effort of the governor to focus on how to keep students in school,” said Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, “I’m concerned that teachers weren’t contacted about this policy change, and I’m further concerned that Superintendent Hofmeister wasn’t invited to the press conference. While we all agree that in-person learning is the best way for children to learn, this policy doesn’t go far enough to ensure the safety of teachers, students, and staff. I urge the governor to call for a mask mandate, which is proven to be the best way to mitigate the spread of this virus, inside and outside of our schools.”
Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa said the governor offered no additional guidance or resources for public schools in a safe manner.
“The governor, who recently enacted COVID precautions to close bars after 11 p.m., is now advocating for a large-scale return to in-person school across the state. The only change instituted was suggesting that if mask mandates were in place, exposed children do not have to quarantine out of school. This didn’t work in Mustang Public Schools – why should we believe it would statewide?”
The State is prioritizing vaccinations for teachers who are 65 and older this week and next and will open vaccinations up to all teachers as soon as vaccine availability allows. The state will also double the amount of rapid antigen tests provided to schools to encourage frequent testing to catch any positive cases early.
“As a physician, I follow the science, and it’s been critical to our COVID-19 response to do so,” said Commissioner Frye. “But it’s also important to look at factors on the ground, and schools have proven to be one of the safest places for most of our students. Other states such as Missouri, Utah and Ohio have put similar quarantine policies into place and haven’t seen large outbreaks occur in schools. This aligns with the trends we’ve seen in our own state, largely thanks to our parents, students, teachers and school administrators who have been doing an outstanding job following precautions and keeping our students safe.”
Frye added, “Data also shows—and the CDC recommends—that getting students safely back to in-person learning is critical for their educational success, mental health and social development. Our public health decisions need to balance all facets of health, and we’re confident this new policy will allow our students to safely thrive in the classroom.”