Administrators at four school districts in Missouri agreed to let their students skip quarantine and return to their classrooms and sports even if they have been in contact with someone who has knowingly tested positive for COVID-19.

The school districts of Diamond, East Newton, Neosho and Seneca announced last week that exposed students would no longer be required to quarantine and could return to in-person learning, The Kansas City Star reported.  The reversal in course was prompted by the Newton County Health Department, which announced September 15 that students could be allowed inside school buildings despite their exposure.

Each of the four districts are located inside Newtown County, near Joplin in southeastern Missouri.  District superintendents worked with officials at the county’s health department to draft guidance which says students who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus can “continue to attend school and school activities,” as long as they wear a mask and social distance, The Star reported. These students would be closely monitored for virus symptoms, the guidelines state.

Larry Bergner, administrator of the county’s health department, told The Star he issued the guidance because too many children were missing school to quarantine.   “We were quarantining between 25 and 31 students for every one positive case,” he said on Monday. “You don’t have to get too many positive cases before you have most of the student body on quarantine.”

“I felt like this was worth trying, to keep our kids in school and treat them like essential employees.  If they start to show symptoms then they go home.  But we were sending a lot of kids home and they were not sick.  Why let them fall behind in their education?”

But on Friday, Neosho abandoned the county’s idea and announced it would go back to having students quarantine for at least two weeks if they come within six feet of a positive case for at least 15 minutes.  Neosho Superintendent Jim Cummins explained the change of heart in a notice to parents on Monday.

“What started out as a quiet effort to determine if we could keep students in school without having a spike in positive cases, became a political issue,” Cummins said.  He said he heard from health officials for and against the idea to forego quarantine.  Over the weekend, a survey of district employees showed that 58% favored keeping the students in school.

Cummins, the Neosho superintendent, said that despite some support for no quarantine, the county’s relaxed procedures are not a mandate.  It really makes me wonder what concerns Cummins has, and what he means political?   He just stated that 58% favored keeping the students in school.  

State Rep. Ben Baker, a Republican who represents Newton County, met with all the school officials and after hearing about the low number of cases and high quarantine numbers said he supported whatever decision each superintendent felt was best for his district.

In the meantime, as of late this afternoon (Tuesday), according to their websites, Diamond, East Newton and Seneca school districts are sticking with the county guidance to allow exposed students to stay in schools.  Good for the schools and good for the Superintendents of these threes school districts.  

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