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Louisiana Public Schools Can Now Decide Whether Or Not To Mandate COVID Quarantines

Students at Red River Elementary in Coushatta, Louisiana work on a reading comprehension exercise. June 8, 2021.
Aubri Juhasz/WWNO
Students at Red River Elementary in Coushatta, Louisiana work on a reading comprehension exercise. June 8, 2021.

Some Louisiana parents will soon have the option to decide whether to send their child back to school or keep them at home following a suspected COVID-19 exposure.

The decision comes at a time when other states are pursuing or have adopted similar policies in an effort to keep more students in the classroom.

“We can no longer ignore the unintended academic consequences of our students unnecessarily missing school,” State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said in a statement Wednesday. “This new, common-sense option empowers parents and local communities with the authority to make health-related decisions for their students.”

Quarantines have been widespread since the school year began, and some of the state’s larger systems have reported several thousand quarantine cases each week. Under Louisiana’s current quarantine standards, a student identified as a “close contact” could be required to quarantine for a few days or even weeks.

Brumley said individual districts can now make available a “parent choice option,” which allows families to decide whether to keep their child at home or continue sending them to school. As part of the policy, parents will also have access to no-cost COVID testing, though participation is voluntary.

“The parent choice option in no way alters the process school systems use to handle a student that tests positive for COVID,” a press release said. “If a student develops symptoms of the virus or tests positive, the student should isolate until they have recovered and are determined to no longer be infectious.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already said that as long as students wear masks in the classroom, they do not need to quarantine when identified as a close contact.

But not all Louisiana leaders were on board with Wednesday's announcement. Gov. John Bel Edwards and the state's health officer Dr. Joe Kanter both opposed the new policy, according to The Advocate.

Kanter told The Advocate that the new policy was a "bad call," "dangerous" and "is going to put kids at risk."

Leaders with New Orleans Public Schools, a district that has used quarantines to prevent further spread of COVID-19, also pushed back on the new guidance in an emailed statement.

Masks are mandatory in Louisiana public schools, and Gov. John Bel Edwards recently extended his indoor mask mandate until the end of October.

While COVID cases and hospitalizations have trended downward in recent weeks, health officials have warned that transmission rates remain high across the state.

On Wednesday, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 1,048 COVID-19 cases. Thirty of the new cases were reported by children 17 years of age or younger.

Across the state’s 69 parish school districts, COVID policies vary widely and it's unclear whether the majority of districts will institute the new “parent choice option.”

Some school and local leaders have publicly pushed back on the mask mandate, and few systems have opted into the state’s school-based surveillance testing initiative. Before the storm, just 10 of the state’s 64 parishes had agreed to test students for COVID regularly.

Copyright 2021 WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio. To see more, visit WWNO - New Orleans Public Radio.

Aubri Juhasz is the education reporter for New Orleans Public Radio. Before coming to New Orleans, she was a producer for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. She helped lead the show's technology and book coverage and reported her own feature stories, including the surge in cycling deaths in New York City and the decision by some states to offer competitive video gaming to high school students as an extracurricular activity.