A dozen superintendents representing Denver metro school districts sent a letter to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment on Monday, urging the state to end mandatory COVID-19 quarantines in schools.
The letter, addressed to CDPHE Executive Director Jill Hunsaker Ryan, said more than 6,000 students have completed quarantines in the past two weeks across 13 districts, with less than one-fifth of 1% testing positive for the virus.
“The frequent school quarantines have caused constant disruption to classroom environments, stress for students preparing for end of year exams, and a lack of predictability and consistency in almost every facet of a student's school experience,” the letter reads.
According to Chris Gdowski, superintendent of Adams 12 Five Star Schools, current guidelines require anyone who has been within 6 feet of a confirmed COVID-19 positive patient for 15 minutes or longer to quarantine for one to two weeks.
Gdowski and the other 11 superintendents argue this is an excessive policy, saying rates of COVID-19 transmission within schools are low and in-person schooling is “critically important for many students in their social, emotional, and academic development.”
This letter comes as CDPHE has reported an increase in COVID-19 cases among children.
State epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said the steepest increase in cases has been among middle and high school students, adding there needs to be a balance between disease control and education.
"(We are) exploring options to try and decrease the burden of quarantine on schools," Herlihy said. "We do recognize that it is disruptive to education. But there’s a balance here and we know that these disease control strategies that we’re using — isolation and quarantine — are really important and effective."
However, the superintendents feel other COVID-19 regulations are sufficient in protecting the students.
The letter asks CDPHE to take “prompt action” to change current quarantine regulations, but continue indoor mask wearing for students and staff, home isolation of COVID-19 positive students and staff, and asking those with symptoms to stay home.
In the most extreme case, the letter said one student has been quarantined six times this year and numerous others have been quarantined two or three times, describing these students’ educational experience as “choppy” and “inconsistent.”
“The protective health benefits for these students from quarantines have been small -- and the costs to their development and academic progress have been great,” the letter reads. “The stakes will grow larger as participation in graduation ceremonies and ... advanced placement exams becomes at risk.”
The letter requested an acknowledgment and timeline for a response from CDPHE by Tuesday. While CDPHE has not officially responded to the letter, Herlihy confirmed it did receive it.
At least 11 states have eliminated prior quarantine rules that required students to be removed from in-person schooling after being exposed to someone who tested positive with COVID-19.
With the school year coming to an end, the superintendents estimate 10% to 20% of students could be placed in quarantine before summer break.
“We can give tens of thousands of students the opportunity to finish the school year with consistency, predictability, and focus that they'll otherwise lose out on as they get on and off the quarantine carousel,” the letter reads.
The superintendents included in the letter are:
- Chris Gdowski, Adams 12 Five Star Schools
- Douglas Bissonette, Elizabeth School District
- Charlotte Ciancio, Mapleton School District
- Tracy Dorland, Jefferson County Public Schools
- Brian Ewert, Littleton Public Schools
- Chris Fiedler, 27J Schools
- Rico Munn, , Aurora Public Schools
- Wendy Rubin, Englewood Schools
- Mike Schmidt, Platte Canyon School District
- Scott Siegfried, Cherry Creek School District
- Pam Swanson, Westminster Public Schools
- Corey Wise, Douglas County School District