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NW Missouri schools send letter to state officials about changing quarantine guidelines for schools

Members of the Rural Activists of Northwest Missouri group, sent a letter to state officials about making changes to the quarantine guidelines for schools. The group consist of 16 superintendents residing from 20 school districts, all signing the letter supporting less-restricted guidelines.

Posted: Nov 5, 2020 2:30 PM
Updated: Nov 5, 2020 2:46 PM

(MARYVILLE, Mo.) Members of the Rural Activists of Northwest Missouri group, sent a letter to state officials about making changes to the quarantine guidelines for schools.  

The group consist of 16 superintendents residing from 20 school districts, all signing the letter supporting less-restricted guidelines.

“You know, we understand that community health is important and we want to be safe, but we also, we need to advocate for our students," said Becky Albrecht of Maryville R-ll, one of the 16 superintendent signatures on the letter.  "And at this point we feel like that was the best way to do it, to send a letter and reach out on the state level.”

According to Albrecht, out of the 20 school districts in rural Northwest Missouri, a total of 1,430 students have suffered through at least one quarantine during the fall semester, and some have endured multiple quarantines.   Albrecht also explained that 465 students in Maryville R-ll district have been quarantined.  

Some of the key points of the letter that are hoping to be adjusted is to shorten the length of quarantine to five to seven days and to eliminate quarantine of close contact with the positive COVID-19 cases while wearing a face covering.

Governor Mike Parson has received and read the letter, saying he most certainly supports the recommendations.  “We’re actually working with the CDC right now to do some pilot programs in the state to change those quarantine directions that some are given to them. Some that’s by the CDC guidelines, but we’ve been working with the schools, and there need to be changes made to it.”

Here is the full letter:

October 20, 2020

Governor Parsons,
MO Department of Health & Senior Services Deputy Director Fischer,
Department of Elementary & Secondary Education Commissioner Vandeven:

On behalf of the children and families in our communities, we as a collective group of school
superintendents from Northwest Missouri request changes in quarantine guidance given to our
county health departments. We feel sufficient evidence exists to support our suggestions and
respectfully request your immediate consideration.

We suggest the following changes to quarantine recommendations for students:

1. Shorten the length of quarantine.
   a. Many of our local health experts have shared evidence of approximately 5 days as
   the optimal range for symptom onset. A shortened quarantine, perhaps 5 or 7
   days, would respect this contagious window and simultaneously preserve
   students’ education.

2. Eliminate a quarantine if the close contact with a positive occurred while both individuals
were wearing face coverings.
   a. Many of our districts, and some towns, have mask mandates. Staff and students
   are following these to add layers of protection. If wearing the face covering
   would eliminate the need for quarantine, compliance would be viewed more
   favorably, easier to explain, and preserve students’ education.

We believe the positive impacts of making either or both of these changes far outweigh the
potential consequence of spreading the virus. Our districts are all hosting in-person classes, and
there doesn’t seem to be many students contracting or spreading the virus. In a poll of 20 school
districts in rural Northwest Missouri, a total of 1,430 students have suffered through at least one
quarantine during this fall term. Some have endured multiple quarantines. Of these, only 59
students (4.1% of those quarantined or .0046 % of these districts’ total enrollment of 12,732
students) have actually tested positive for Covid-19. Generalizing the typical school day is in the
vicinity of seven hours and a quarantine is for ten weekdays, this means 95,970 hours (or 13,710
school days) have been missed by 1,379 healthy kids already this year.

The list of positive consequences resulting from changing quarantine recommendations is longer:
   · Improved Education – The best education is face-to-face with a dedicated,
   engaging teacher. Our students are struggling with remote learning needed during extended
   absences. The younger the student, the more difficult remote learning is. Many can’t
   independently manipulate the technology and don’t have needed adult support at home. While
   we’re providing devices and internet to families, many are challenged with no broadband or fiber
   service, making connection a struggle. The time missed in the classroom with a teacher cannot
   be regained or replicated. Students are failing courses they’d be successful in if they were
   attending school.

   · Improved Supervision – Students, particularly young ones, need supervision as
   most parents have to work. Finding suitable daycare is challenging in the best of times, but with
   Covid-19, it is even worse. We are seeing more and more young children left home all day,
   multiple days in a row, with no one to encourage schoolwork or physical activity and no one to
   discourage risky behaviors.

   · Improved Mental Health – Students are feeling frustrated, anxious, and distracted.
   They are often more worried by the fear of quarantine than they are by contracting the actual
   illness. Sadly, this is true for a lot of school staff, as well.

   · Improved Nutrition – Many students depend on the school to eat. Despite the
   extended availability of meals through food services, we know some students at home are still
   not getting the nutrition they need.

   · Improved Working Conditions for Teachers – Teachers are hard working,
   dedicated professionals, but Covid-19 has significantly increased their workload. Not only do
   teachers have to continue their normal responsibilities, they are also accountable for dozens of
   students with extended absences. Keeping students who are out of the classroom for two
   consecutive weeks current and engaged is beyond challenging. Sometimes, half the class is
   absent for quarantine, and teachers must juggle in-person with remote learning while having only
   50 minutes per day to plan in Missouri where the average teacher salary ranks 49th lowest out of
   all 50 states.

We understand our nation, state, and communities, are in a public health crisis. However, the
quarantines of school age children are resulting in an educational crisis. Lengthy quarantines are
disrupting families, workplaces, schools, and even local economies. School officials and county
health employees are inundated with patron outcry to the point that it’s difficult to conduct
normal business. A shortened quarantine period would ease this burden and dramatically reduce
negative consequences for children. Healthy students need a quicker return to school to learn,
eat, interact with peers, and benefit from adult supervision and guidance.

We also understand the importance of public health, hierarchy, and rules. While some counties
are electing not to follow guidance, we prefer to work collaboratively with you to find
appropriate middle ground, and we believe a shortened quarantine period is it. Our local health
departments indicate the need for your guidance and approval on this issue so we welcome an
opportunity at your convenience to further discuss our suggestions or other viable options.

Please see signature lines for phone numbers and email addresses where we can be reached.

Thank you. Respectfully on behalf of Northwest Missouri Rural Superintendents,

Becky Albrecht, Maryville R-II School District Danny Johnson, King City School District, Mitch Barnes, West Nodaway Karma Coleman, Tarkio, Matt Martz, Worth County Ethan Sickels, Rockport, Brenda Dougan, Northeast Nodaway Johnnie Silkett, South Nodaway R-IV
Korey Miles, Mound City Mark McDaniel, North Andrew, Bob Heddinger, Stanberry Jeff Blackford, Nodaway-Holt R-VII, Chris Turpin, North Nodaway R-VI Bob Ottman, South Holt, Tim Jermain, Jefferson Dustin Freeman, Albany.

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