Gov. Parson’s relaxed COVID-19 quarantine rules create frenzy among metro school districts

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RIVERSIDE, Mo. — Missouri Governor Mike Parson announced Thursday a loosening of guidelines on COVID-19 quarantine for schools.

The guidance suggests schools do not need to quarantine students and staff if exposed to COVID-19, if all parties were wearing masks.

The governor’s announcement is creating a frenzy in metro districts, who are trying to figure out their response.

Park Hill’s school board is meeting Thursday night, and will be talking about the new quarantine guidance. It comes at the exact time when the district says it is getting stretched thin, and could be forced to shut down schools.

Park Hill elementary kids have been going to class full-time with masks on, for over two months. Middle and high schoolers attend part-time. But some classroom space is tight.

The district’s COVID-19 dashboard shows a steady spike in cases in recent days, most from community spread.

“It seems like just about every day in the last week or so, we’ve gotten a notice (from Hopewell Elementary) that someone is being quarantined or someone was exposed and at the junior high level, same thing,” said Tara Gase, Park Hill parent.

In a YouTube video shared this week, Park Hill’s superintendent said masking and quarantines when cases have popped up, have been some of the most effective tools in keeping schools open.

But as case counts climb, quarantine numbers are threatening to send kids back to virtual learning.

“We are struggling to make sure we have enough teachers, substitutes, and support to cover every classroom, every day. Not having enough professionals to staff our schools could lead us to make really tough decisions,” said Dr. Jeannette Cowherd, Park Hill superintendent.

That’s why Parson, along with the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is pushing new guidance, rolling back quarantine requirements. The state now suggests if everyone is masked, regardless of social distancing, quarantines are not needed, which goes against current CDC guidelines.

“To me, the onus being on the teacher to be like, I have eyes on every single child and know at every single moment they did or didn’t have a mask on, while trying to teach during these crazy circumstances, it’s just not feasible,” Gase said.

Park Hill sent a message to families Thursday saying, “We do not currently plan to bring anyone back early who is now quarantined.” But school leaders are talking with other districts and health officials, before deciding if any changes will be made. And in the meantime, the superintendent says school closing could be imminent.

“I know that this would be a major hardship for a lot of our families, so I want to give you fair warning if all our best efforts can’t avoid a closure,” Cowherd said.

The school board meeting in Park Hill starts at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. With everything that’s happening, the district has already extended its enrollment deadline by a week, for families to choose in-person or online learning for the spring. And the district is planning to roll out a big campaign to recruit new substitute teachers in the coming days.

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