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Schools to change quarantine rules after break

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Schools across the Lincoln Parish system began their holiday break this weekend, and when they return, the rules for being in quarantine when exposed to a positive case of COVID-19 will change.

The school district on Friday sent out new guidelines that fall into place with recent recommended changes adopted by the Centers for Disease Control and later picked up by the Louisiana Department of Health as well.

Starting when classes begin again on Jan. 4, if a student must go into quarantine at home after being designated as a close contact to a positive case of COVID-19, he or she could return to school after 10 days rather than the previous 14, or even seven days if a negative test for the virus is obtained within a certain timeframe.

Parents will be able to choose whether to keep their child out until the 11th day since exposure or have them tested to return on the eighth day. If using a rapid antigen test, it must be conducted on the seventh day since exposure in order to count, while molecular tests can be taken as early as the fifth.

Those students returning early from quarantine, even ones in K-2 grade or special needs students, must wear a mask at school through the 14th day since exposure.

The district waited to adopt the changes until officials got additional guidance from the state saying that the rest of the class would not also be required to wear masksif they weren’t already — just the student returning early.

“We do realize that some parents will opt to keep their child at home for the full 14 days, and we also realize that there may be a younger student or students with special needs who are unable to wear a mask,” Chief Academic Office Lisa Bastion said.

Those families with children who can’t wear a mask will have the option to continue with the full quarantine period in effect before these changes.

The rule changes will work the same for school employees as well — they can choose to stay home for 10 days when exposed or get tested to reduce it to 7. The school district will not reimburse employees for the cost of testing.

On Tuesday, the latest day for which figures were available, schools across the district had a total of 224 students out of school either as a close contact or a positive case of COVID-19. No one school constituted more than 41 of those students.

From the beginning of the school year on Aug. 19 to Tuesday, the district has seen a total of 227 cumulative positive cases of the virus among its students. That ranges from 101 at Ruston High School — which has by far the largest student population in the parish — to three cases at Cypress Springs Elementary School.

Those figures are cumulative and do not represent current, active cases.

Meanwhile, 110 school district employees have tested positive for the virus throughout the school year. Of those, 61 were school teachers or administrators, with the rest being other employees like custodians, bus drivers, etc.

On Tuesday alone, the district saw 52 total employees in quarantine or isolation, with 23 of those being teachers or administrators.

Bastion said that daily number of quarantined employees is about average as of late.

The last two weeks of school leading up to the holiday break featured a return to the alternatingday A/B schedule for grades 7-12.

“That has eliminated the need for subs in those schools,” Bastion said. “Subs have been able to be assigned to pre-K through 6th grade instead. So for the most part, we’ve had no shortage with subs.”

The alternating schedule in upper grades allows the full-time teachers to cover for one another on days when their students are all virtual.

The district currently only plans to be in this schedule for two more weeks of class after the break. Officials hope that after two weeks following the holidays, cases and exposures will go back down enough to allow for a return to everyday inperson learning without exacerbating the substitute shortage.