MOUNT VERNON -- Knox County schools have the option to adhere to a modified quarantine procedure released by Knox Public Health, which allows students to continue to attend school in person after COVID-19 exposure if they remain symptom-free and wear masks indoors or when unable to physically distance from others.
While students may remain in the classroom after virus exposure under this procedure, they are not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities such as sports, band and social clubs during their quarantine period.
This modified quarantine procedure will not automatically apply to all Knox County school districts. In order to opt into the policy, a school district must provide internal procedures and an adoption plan for the altered procedures to take effect, including a plan to monitor for symptoms of students under quarantine while in classrooms.
All of Knox County’s six school districts have indicated that they have or will soon submit the plans required to adopt the modified quarantine procedures.
These modified procedures are a local change, not a state-wide change.
Knox Public Health has amended its policy within the parameters of the Infectious Disease Control Manual, deputy health commissioner at Knox Public Health Zach Green said.
“They, as in the State Department of Health, has not adopted anything at this given point in time,” Green said. “We are making this as a local response based on what we believe is beneficial and a step in the right direction for our community in an effort to keep these asymptomatic kiddos in school.”
While students will be allowed to attend school during their quarantine period, as long as they are asymptomatic and masked, they should otherwise still be staying at home, Green said. The quarantine modifications for students are in line with the quarantine procedure for essential employees.
“If an individual is deemed an essential employee, this is the exact same thing,” Green said. “They can go to work, asymptomatic and wearing a facial covering, but they're still quarantined. They should not be going to the grocery store. They should not be going out to dinner with family. They should not be attending extracurricular activities, such as sporting events, during that timeline.
“We’re making an exception for that small window because they're essential. The argument that we have here locally is that these students, that is their job, it is essential for them to be receiving education.”
Along with the push to alter procedures from Knox Public Health in recent weeks, several of Knox County's school boards and superintendents had expressed a desire to alter quarantine procedures in this way throughout September board meetings.
It will be up to each district to determine how to handle the periods during the school day when students remove their masks, which is mainly lunch and recess, Green said.
A few students at East Knox have already begun attending school masked during their quarantine periods, East Knox superintendent Steve Larcomb said.
“I contacted the homes of students Sunday evening that were in quarantine at that time to let those parents know that they could contact our nurses if they wanted their students to participate in the new guidelines for the remainder of their quarantine period,” Larcomb said. “And, we had a couple take us up on that offer.”
Mount Vernon plans for the modified quarantine procedures to take effect Wednesday, corresponding with its return to a mask-optional policy, Mount Vernon superintendent Bill Seder said.
“It’s more work for us now,” Seder said. “We’re going to have to go back to contact tracing, which we didn’t have to do in a masked environment.”
Districts will be responsible for keeping track of, and ensuring mask wearing, for students during their quarantine period.
“Administratively, we’re going to have to put out this list everyday of kids who are supposed to be masked, so that can be a bit of an administrative challenge,” Seder said. “But to keep kids in school and still provide that choice, that we felt like was a more common sense alternative.”
Both Mount Vernon and Fredericktown will be submitting their procedures to Knox Public Health Tuesday, Seder and Fredericktown superintendent Susan Hayward said.
“We are hopeful that our numbers will remain low in terms of positive cases,” Hayward said. "We are very happy that we have a choice with Knox Public Health with our opt in for the modified quarantine guidelines.”
Centerburg opted into the modified quarantine as of Oct. 19, Centerburg superintendent Mike Hebenthal wrote in an email to Knox Pages.
Hebenthal wrote that the district’s COVID-19 data indicated that the majority of students who are placed in quarantine due to exposure do not become positive for COVID-19.
“Being in school is important for both their academic achievement but also to just have normal days which can bring comfort in these unusual times,” Hebenthal wrote. “We will do a symptoms check on any student who is in modified quarantine each day and feel there is very little risk and it has far more benefits for the students and families.”
Danville approved the use of the modified procedure during its Monday school board meeting.
“It is the right thing to do to keep students in school,” Danville superintendent Jason Snively wrote to Knox Pages.
If a student starts developing symptoms at any point during their quarantine period, they must immediately start isolating and will not be allowed in the classroom. The time they must be out of the classroom depends on subsequent testing.
If symptoms present and the student tests positive (PCR or antigen test), the student must stay home and isolate for a minimum of ten days from the start of symptoms. If the symptomatic student tests negative, the student should remain home until symptoms improve and the student is fever free without medication for a minimum of 24 hours.
If a symptomatic student does not get tested for the virus, the student must stay home and isolate for a minimum of ten days from the start of symptoms and until the student’s symptoms improve/they remain fever free for at least 24 hours without medicine.
Families can still choose to quarantine their children after exposure if a district opts into the modified procedure. Parents of students identified as close contacts in a school setting will be informed of the known exposure.
No exemptions, religious or otherwise, can be made to get out of wearing a mask during a quarantine period. If students are unable to wear a mask for any reason during their quarantine period, they will not be allowed to attend school and will be required to stay home for the duration of their quarantine.