Gov. Parson changes protocol for schools addressing virus
EXCELSIOR SPRINGS – The state issued a new COVID-19 protocol to schools, but whether and how much of a difference the change will make is unclear.
Coronavirus infections and contacts closed Excelsior Springs High School and the Career Center all of last week and through Thanskgiving. The closures put all students into virtual learning mode. In addition, Deputy Superintendent Jaret Tomlinson said Lewis Elementary School went virtual Nov. 13.
Richmond High School remained closed for a month because of the virus before reopening last week using an inschool and online teaching combination.
Gov. Mike Parson last week announced a new plan for virus-impacted schools. The Department of Health and Senior Services, and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education agreed to the protocol.
“We know that COVID-19 is not going away soon, so it is important that we continue to evaluate the guidance we’re issuing at the state level to make sure our procedures are sustainable for the next several months,” Parson said Nov. 12.
The Parson administration concluded that, if an infected person at school has contact with others at that school, but all involved wore masks correctly, then individuals exposed to the infected person do not need to quarantine. Instead, those exposed should:
• Self-monitor for symptoms,
• Stay home at the first sign of illness and
• Continue to wear a mask at all times in public to further reduce the likelihood of transmitting the virus.
Only the infected person must be isolated under the protocol.
Tomlinson said the Excelsior Springs School District would keep the protocol change in mind but would take direction from the health agency closest to the district, the Clay County Public Health Center. He said, rather than listen only to the state, some school districts focus on what is advised locally and by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, one of the world’s top health agencies.
“A lot’s going to depend on if the health departments go along with that, what the governor’s saying, or do they stay with what they’re doing because of the CDC,” Tomlinson said. “We’re going to stay with our current approach, what we’ve been doing, until we see how this kind of plays out.”
CDC information states: “Staff and students who have recently had close contact with a person with COVID-19 should also stay home and monitor their health.” The state protocol conflicts with the CDC protocol.
After consulting with Kansas City Health Department officials, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas rejected the state protocol.
“Based upon the advice of our health director and given the increasing uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 in our community, we respectfully cannot recommend schools in Kansas City follow the updated ‘non-quarantine guidance’ shared from Jefferson City today,” Lucas stated.
Tomlinson said Excelsior Springs School District would consider a new plan only if the Clay County Public Health Center provides new guidance.
“We’re definitely going to lean toward our local influences because they know us better,” he said.
At the health center, media spokeswoman Kelsey Neth said the new protocol was under review.
“We are evaluating the governor’s guidance. We’re running it past some of our different team members, like our medical officer and staff, and we’ll notify the schools and the public if we think adopting that new guidance would be the best move; but so far, we haven’t made that decision and aren’t recommending any changes,” Neth said.
The district’s overall goal is to keep students in classrooms whenever doing so is safe, Tomlinson said.
“We’re always open to doing whatever we can to keep as many kids in school face to face. That’s always our goal,” he said. “If we can find a way to do that that’s going to be safe and healthy for our kids and our staff, then we’re all for that.”
Richmond School District Superintendent Greg Darling said district leaders plan to follow the new protocol.
“We’ll follow the recommendation by the governor,” he said.
Asked how the district could assure everyone involved in a virus-contact situation wore masks properly, Darling answered, “It puts emphasis on students to make sure they wear masks. I think you can do it on the positive side of saying this will help.”
If a student is not wearing a mask properly, then that student could be subject to quarantine resulting from a contact situation, he said. Some students take wearing masks more seriously than others, Darling said.
“The lower (grade) students are doing a super job. It’s some of the older ones (who are not),” he said. “Our teachers are concerned to make sure that they’re safe, so we are policing them to make sure the kids are wearing their masks right.”
After about a month of taking virtual classes because of infections and contacts, Richmond High School reopened on a hybrid basis last week. Students spend a half day in school, with the rest of the day spent in virtual learning.
“(Reopening) went well,” Darling said. “The administration and teachers did a super job with that hybrid. ... With the social distancing, it makes kids and adults feel safe.”
Like the Excelsior Springs School District, the Lawson School District – which takes in students from Clay and Ray counties – intends to follow guidance provided by the Clay County Health Center, District Superintendent Roger Schmitz stated.
“Lawson R-XIV has a mask mandate in effect and welcomes this new guid ‘ance. As with all guidance changes, however, there are currently more questions than answers. Therefore, in consultation ‘ with the Ray County Health Department, Lawson R-XIV will continue to operate under the initial quarantine guidance, until official DHSS guidance is received by the county health department. Those students or staff currently under quarantine by the county health department will remain on quarantine for the assigned duration of the quarantine and will not be allowed to return to school until the designated return date,” Schmitz stated. “When directed by the Ray County Health Department, Lawson R-XIV will transition to the new guidance for quarantine provided by DHSS and DESE.”
Closing Excelsior Springs High School and the Career Center did not come as much of a surprise to patrons, Tomlinson said. Before the school year started, district leaders created – and then made the public aware of the potential use for – in-school, virtual and hybrid education models.
“I don’t think it’s a big shock because we had we just lost too many staff,” Tomlinson said.
The surprise came when staffing problems extended to Lewis Elementary School.
“Lewis Elementary went virtual as of today,” Tomlinson said last week. “They will come back on Monday the 30th.”
The virus left the district with no choice, he said.
“We had too many staff out sick,” Tomlinson said. “Some of the staff members have very far-reaching effects, so we were looking at the potential to have to quarantine our entire office; you just can’t replace that. So, it wasn’t just the teachers, it wasn’t just some of the paras, it wasn’t just some of the classified employees; it was a mixture of all of those, and some of those are very key roles.”
The Thanksgiving holiday could impact how quickly, or not, Excelsior Springs schools reopen, Tomlinson said.
“With Thanksgiving coming up, if we can somehow get everybody to be healthy and come back on Nov. 30, and we can get back to how things were going before, that would be a win for us,” he said. “But we’re also nervous about everybody going out at Thanksgiving meals and intermingling with other people. There could be another surge come December, but we need to wait and see how that’s going to go.”
Under the state’s new protocol, those who are “close contacts” in K-12 schools should continue to quarantine at home for 14 days if their school does not require students and staff to wear masks, or if masks are not worn appropriately by either the people diagnosed with COVID-19 or the people who became exposed, information from Parson’s office states.
“Schools that are consistently implementing COVID-19 mitigation strategies remain among the safest places for our students,” Parson said. “We believe this change will lead to more schools encouraging proper mask usage, helping to further protect students and educators from the spread of the virus.”
A case study released by the CDC focused on a Missouri hair salon where two infected stylists worked on clients. Because the salon required clients and stylists to wear masks, researchers got to view how well mask wearing works.
“The salon in which they worked had a policy requiring both stylists and their clients to wear face coverings, consistent with the local government ordinance. Both stylists wore double-layered cloth face coverings or surgical masks when seeing clients. The median appointment time was 15 minutes and ranged from 15 to 45 minutes. More than 98% of clients wore a face covering – 47% wore cloth face coverings, 46% wore surgical masks, and about 5% wore N-95 respirators,” CDC information stated. “When customers were asked whether they had been ill with any respiratory symptoms in the 90 days preceding their appointment, 87 (84%) reported that they had not. None of the interviewed customers developed symptoms of illness. Among 67 (48%) customers who volunteered to be tested, all 67 tested negative for the virus that causes COVID-19. Several family members of one of the stylists subsequently developed symptoms and received a diagnosis of COVID-19.”
The case study suggested masks are effective.
Separate research published Oct. 6 in Nature concluded with University of Edinburgh virologist Paul Digard stating, “Masks work, but they are not infallible. And, therefore, keep your distance.”
‘We’re definitely going to lean toward our local influences because they know us better. ‘
JARET TOMLINSON EXCELSIOR SPRINGS DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT