Alachua County schools update quarantine rules

Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) announced updated contact tracing and quarantine procedures for students starting Monday.

The new policy comes as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) modified COVID-19 mitigation guidance which will, “reduce the number of students who are directed to stay home from school,” according to an ACPS statement on Friday.

“A student who was within six feet of someone with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes is considered a close contact and will be directed to stay home unless the student is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and has no symptoms or the student has recovered from COVID-19 in the last three months and has no symptoms,” the statement said. 

Also new under the guidelines: Even if a student is within three to six feet of the a student with COVID-19, officials will not consider it close contact if both students were wearing masks the entire time. 

The guidance stipulates that these new guidelines apply “only to students who have contact with another student who has COVID. They do not apply if either the person with COVID or the contact is an adult. They also do not apply if students have symptoms. Any student with symptoms or who is waiting for COVID test results should remain at home.”

The ACPS cited CDC guidelines for the changes, but they also bring the district into closer alignment with a Florida Department of Health rule new state Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo issued on Sept. 22.

The new rule aims to reduce the number of students being quarantined for COVID-19 exposure and gives parents the choice on whether to keep students home from school after exposure.

“The Department observed a large number of students have been required to quarantine for long periods of time, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of days of in-person learning,” the rule states. “In addition, the Department observed no meaningful difference in the number of COVID-19 cases in school-aged children in counties where school districts have imposed mask mandates.”

The rule says that school districts may adopt requirements for students to wear masks as a mitigation measure but must allow for parents to opt students out of wearing a face mask at the parent’s sole discretion.

If a student is known to have been in direct contact with an individual that is positive for COVID-19, the emergency rule gives parents or legal guardians two options: “Allow the student to attend school, school-sponsored activities, or be on school property, without restrictions or disparate treatment, so long as the student remains asymptomatic,” or, “quarantine the student for a period of time not to exceed seven days from the date of last direct contact with an individual that is positive for COVID-19.”

But if a student becomes symptomatic following direct contact with and individual who has tested positive for COVID-19, or tests positive, the rule states that the student “shall not attend school, school-sponsored activities, or be on school property,” until the student receives a negative COVID-19 test and is asymptomatic, or 10 days have passed since the onset of symptoms or a positive COVID-19 test result, has had no fever for 24 hours and the student’s other symptoms are improving or the student receives written permission to return to school from a licensed medical doctor.

The ACPS COVID-19 protocols continue to differ from the DOH emergency rule, despite recent court rulings in favor of the state’s ban on universal masking in schools.

“All students are required to wear a mask correctly and consistently for the first ten weeks of school,” the policy states. “Students with a documented health, sensory, or developmental reason that prevents them from wearing a mask can request an exemption, as described below.

The policy—which extends to employees, visitors, vendors, and all other adults—is in place until Oct. 19.

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