The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has heard of a few K-12 public schools and school boards who have chosen not to be as restrictive in their COVID-19 quarantines and contact tracing procedures as recommended by their local health department. Spokeswoman Mallory McGowin said their protocol must meet the minimum requirements set forth by their local public health agency.

“When we have become aware of those, we have worked as a team here in this building and with our DESE area supervisors of instruction to make clear to those school leaders that we do believe they are stepping outside of their authority and to address the number of concerns that we have,” McGowin said during Tuesday’s State Board of Education meeting. “The potential that we are jeopardizing student and staff health is among the top of those concerns. We also are concerned that increases the potential for outbreaks, which could lead to a lack of in-person learning.”

The department continues to stress the importance of students learning in-person.

McGowin said if schools do not follow their health department’s minimum requirements, they are violating Missouri State High School Activities Association policy and they would not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities. She said they are also jeopardizing themselves to greater liability and the local health department can close the school.

As far as contact tracing efforts go in local communities, she said reaching out to families in a timely manner is key.

“When you are not able to let a family know that their student was exposed and should stay home from school, when you are not able to let them know that quickly, early on in that period of quarantine, we are really missing the opportunity to prevent further exposure among our school population and in our school buildings,” she said.

McGowin said the relationship between many schools and their local health department is great.

“They’ve been working under a lot of stress together for 18 months. Some of those relationships are challenging and they are working through those under these really extreme, intensified situations. That often presents an additional layer of difficulty for them,” she said.

Missouri has about 900,000 K-12 public school students.

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