MHS Reflects: MO Governor Parson Relaxes School Quarantine Guidelines


Media by Carter Van Buskirk

Emily Thompson, french teacher, said the safety of students is her top priority. She became a teacher to support the social-emotional health of every student in-person, which is unachievable during the pandemic. “I am a fairly healthy adult, so I am not as worried about myself as I would be for my other colleges who are substantially older, students with underlying conditions, or students and staff who are on the roulette wheel of being healthy and end up in the hospital,” Thompson said.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, alongside officials from the Department of Health and Senior Services and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, announced modifications to the quarantine guidelines for K-12 educators and students last Thursday, Nov. 12. 

Parson said the revised guidance permits students in close contact with individuals who have COVID-19 to not quarantine if the exposed students and infected person were wearing masks under a school district-wide mask mandate.

This follows recent weeks of high quarantine rates in Missouri schools. He said a 14-day quarantine presents a strain on communities, interrupts in-person learning and worsens staff shortages. 

Parson’s update suggests proper mask-wearing exempts individuals from being identified as close contacts: however, an Oct. 20 update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that in defining a close contact one must also consider proximity, duration of exposure and whether the exposure was from a person exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.

Parson has not instituted a statewide mask mandate, which leaves school districts the choice to implement these guidelines and enforce mask and quarantine protocols. This comes as St. Louis City and County have announced tighter restrictions on social gatherings, dining and other activities to mitigate the spread of the virus.

RSD Superintendent Dr. Mark Miles said the new modifications will provide more flexibility on safety protocols, but the district will maintain the same quarantine practices. In a statement, the district said it will carefully review and examine the guidelines from Gov. Parson.

“We will continue to collaborate with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, and we will analyze any additional information from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education before we make any changes to our quarantine practices,” Dr. Miles said.

We will continue to collaborate with the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, and we will analyze any additional information from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education before we make any changes to our quarantine practices.

— RSD Superintendent Dr. Mark Miles

Missouri has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, with school districts such as Saint Louis Public Schools, Riverview Gardens and Wentzville transitioning back to virtual learning.

At least 5,875 new COVID-19 cases and 11 new deaths were reported in Missouri on Nov. 13, totaling to an estimated 241,031 cases and 3,452 deaths in Missouri, according to data compiled by The New York Times.

As of Saturday, Nov. 14, Missouri saw 27,969 new coronavirus cases and 58 deaths in the past seven days, with a 24.3 percent positivity rate using the CDC method, according to the Department of Health and Senior Services.

The St. Louis County health department, among other Missouri health organizations, opposed Parson’s new guidelines in a statement, advising students and staff across the state to continue to follow a 14-day quarantine protocol if they were exposed to someone with COVID-19.

Eliana Madalena, junior, said the new regulations may eliminate the need for students to miss two weeks of school, but she understands the potential of a COVID-19 spread because students who are exposed to COVID-19 while wearing a mask wouldn’t be required to quarantine. 

“I would personally worry about getting sick if someone I sat by had COVID-19, especially since I see my grandparents often, but I have faith that myself and my peers will be responsible,” Mandalena said.

Mandalena said as coronavirus cases increase, there will be a need for stricter guidelines even if individuals don’t prefer being isolated in quarantine for weeks. She said she would not be surprised if RSD reverted to all virtual learning, and while disappointed, would understand the need for community safety. 

“Too many people are still going to parties and going places without masks on, so hopefully these tighter guidelines may deter people from doing those things,” Mandalena said. “I hope the COVID-19 cases will decline with these new regulations, but that can’t happen until we all can be responsible and follow through with these guidelines.”

I hope the COVID-19 cases will decline with these new regulations, but that can’t happen until we all can be responsible and follow through with these guidelines.

— Eliana Madalena, junior

Thomas Cook, spanish teacher, said many educators are experiencing stress, anxiety and burnout because of the state of affairs with the coronavirus pandemic. 

As the Rockwood National Education Association (RNEA) vice-president, Cook said as COVID-19 positive cases and death rates increase, it is an inappropriate time to relax quarantine guidelines for students and staff. 

“All the teachers I’ve talked to were not happy about Parson seeming to be easing the guidelines,” Cook said. “The district does not enjoy quarantining students and staff, but you try to keep everyone safe. We know confirmed cases can be traced back to schools, so that just makes me and other teachers more nervous.” 

Emily Thompson, French teacher, said she was scared to hear the relaxed quarantine protocols, especially for other school districts who may decide to modify their safety measures because the local and state officials’ advice does not conflict. 

“It seems like some of the decisions are based on what health experts are saying and others on what politicians are saying,” Thompson said. “It’s worrisome to see there are people who aren’t listening to the medical experts and making this more of a divisive issue than a health issue.”

She said students and staff must work together under the common threat of the unknown in the COVID-19 pandemic even if they are upset by executive officials’ decisions.

Jian Zhang, senior, said even though RSD has implemented safety measures, the schools cannot prepare for every risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Zhang said the relaxed quarantine protocols could exponentially increase the risk of coronavirus contraction and create an unsafe environment. Masks should not be a replacement for social distancing and vice-versa in regards to changing safety protocols, she said.

“I disagree with this a lot because masks do prevent the spread of air-born germs, but they are not one hundred percent safe,” Zhang said. “This could potentially be very dangerous for school districts. In the long term, it could have longer lasting effects that we would have to prepare to deal with in a more severe way.”

Zhang said she would prefer to follow the instruction of health committees, but she would not discredit the governor’s perspective even if it conflicts with mitigating the spread.

“I do have to acknowledge that it can help in the terms of keeping the economy going and lessening the disruptions in people’s lives,” Zhang said. “What’s necessary for other people, like student athletes who rely on sports for scholarships, in this pandemic is not necessarily the same for me.”