116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — With almost 1,000 students in quarantine from exposure to COVID-19 in the Iowa City Community School District, the school board voted Tuesday to relaxing its quarantine protocol to match the Iowa Department of Public Health.
The move by the district could release hundreds of students from quarantine early if they have had a negative COVID-19 test after seven days in quarantine or who are not showing symptoms after 10 days in quarantine.
The measure passed in a 6-1 vote, with school board member Charlie Eastham dissenting.
The district will start reaching out to families Thursday about adjusted quarantine end dates.
Johnson County Public Health recommended the district not change its quarantine guidance.
The district has been following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Johnson County Public Health for the past year.
Under Johnson County Public Health guidance, students and staff who were considered a “close contact” with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 were required to quarantine for 14 days.
Close contact includes anyone within 6 feet of a positive case for 15 minutes or more over 24 hours or two hours in an indoor space regardless of distance.
“We’re trying to stop the spread of infection, protect schools and the community as a whole and vulnerable people,” said Jennifer Miller, disease prevention specialist at Johnson County Public Health. “It’s not the time to give up on all the work we’ve been doing for a year.”
If cases of COVID-19 begin to rise in schools over the next two or three weeks, the school board may decide to reverse its decision to again align with CDC and Johnson County Public Health guidance.
As of Tuesday evening, the Iowa City Community School District was reporting 136 students currently positive for COVID-19 and 983 students in quarantine, which is 6.6 percent of the student body.
About 90 percent of Iowa City school staff have been vaccinated for the coronavirus. Two staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 and 30 are in quarantine.
The Iowa Department of Public Health has provided different guidance for quarantining. This is the new guidance Iowa City schools will be following.
If both people are masked correctly, a close contact does not need to quarantine, but should self-monitor. If the person who is considered a close contact has no symptoms, their quarantine can end after 10 days without a test or after seven days with a negative COVID-19 test.
The Cedar Rapids, Solon, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Southeast Polk and Sioux City community school districts are following guidance from the Iowa Department of Public Health.
The Cedar Rapids Community School District, for example, currently has 18 students in quarantine and eight students positive for COVID-19, as of April 9. Only three staff members are in quarantine and none are currently positive for the virus.
Iowa City Superintendent Matt Degner said it’s difficult to sustain the current level of contact tracing and quarantining happening in the district.
He also voiced concern for students in quarantine who may not be engaging in virtual instruction at home.
School board member Ruthina Malone said she has spoken with Iowa City families, many who are low-income, about the quarantine protocols.
“Parents can’t be at home,” she said. “They have to work to keep the lights on and food on the table. I’m concerned our quarantine policy is causing harm not only educationally, but socially because their families cannot be there to ensure they’re not out doing something that can get them in trouble.”
Iowa City parents are in favor of lifting the restrictions.
Mark Thompson, who has two students at Iowa City High School, said his son was “forced into quarantine” because of the school board’s policy.
“Students are suffering immediate harm by being forced to stay home, missing classes, missing sports practices and missing meets,” he said during public comment.
Jason Witt said his child, who also attends Iowa City High School, has been quarantined three times this year.
“I am really concerned about the mental health of our adolescent children, and I believe it is incumbent upon the school district to make sure they have structure, normalcy and a lack of upheaval to help make them as successful as possible,” he said.
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