CANFIELD — As Canfield Local Schools administrators prepare to revisit the district’s mask requirement for kindergartners through sixth-graders later this month, they’re eyeing new protocols — now in place elsewhere in the state — that could cut down on the number of quarantines required after COVID-19 exposure.
“[Required quarantines] is not a Canfield issue — this is a statewide issue, for sure — but it’s surely an issue for every school district in Mahoning County,” school board member Dave Wilkeson said during the board’s regular meeting Wednesday evening at Canfield High School.
“This is a major problem.”
Superintendent Joe Knoll, who updated administrators Wednesday on COVID-19 cases and quarantines in the district said though it appears “things might be calming down” statewide, the possibility of a winter surge looms.
There have been nearly 300 new cases reported in Canfield’s 44406 ZIP code in the last month. The district reported 13 total cases in August — about twice as many as in each of the prior two months — and 65 total cases in September, the first full month of the school year.
This past winter, the district reported 44 cases in November, 81 cases in December and 47 cases in January, Knoll’s report showed.
Since the district began requiring masks for kindergartners through sixth-graders on Sept. 22, “there’s been a nice downward spiral with quarantines,” Knoll said. Five days prior to the mask rule, about three-quarters of the district’s 95 quarantined students were in grades K-6.
“When our youngest learners aren’t in-person for instruction, we have some problems,” Knoll said.
Several residents on Wednesday decried the state health department’s quarantine guidelines or the district’s decision to require masks.
“Every child in Ohio has a constitutional right to education and the quarantine policy that we’ve been oppressed with from the [Ohio] Department of Health is actually counter to that constitutional right,” said Dr. Michael Scolieri, a Canfield urologist.
“Forcing kids into quarantine is like forcing them into jail,” he told the board. “There’s no online schooling for these kids. They’re just losing 10 days of school.”
Scolieri pointed to a UK study recently published in The Lancet that showed regularly testing students is no less effective than quarantining them after exposure.
School districts in several other states have adopted the protocol, Scolieri told Mahoning Matters, and several school districts in Ohio began their trial run last month.
Under the “test to stay” protocol, students who had close contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case can stay in school as long as they receive negative results on two rapid antigen tests, continue to wear a mask inside the school and remain symptom-free, the Dayton Daily News reported last month.
School district administrators in Warren County developed the plan, and it’s been approved by the Ohio Department of Health, the newspaper reported. The state health department is also providing the testing kits to the school districts.
School board members on Wednesday decided to revisit the mask requirement at a special meeting on Oct. 27, a week after they had initially planned to revisit the rule.
Knoll recommended the district wait an extra week, expecting that an initial report on Warren County schools’ “test to stay” program would be available by then and “possibly give us some — not less restrictions, but better protocol,” he said.
“I’d say we continue with the K-6 masking, just because of what I’m seeing. Our youngest learners — they’re not at home, they’re in school,” he said.
Wilkeson said it doesn’t matter whether one follows county- or state-level coronavirus statistics — “it’s clear that the vast majority of students that are in quarantine don’t get COVID from the exposure [in school]. I think the solution to all this is the ‘test to stay’ protocol.
“I think it’s really critical that the Mahoning County Board of Health adopts or helps us to adopt ‘test to stay’ — not just us but all the school districts in Mahoning County,” Wilkeson said. “I’m publicly asking them for that support.”
Dale Morckel, a Crestview Local Schools science teacher whose grandchildren attend Canfield schools, commended Canfield administrators for requiring masks and urged them to consider keeping the rule.
He said his district had 71 students quarantined in the first six weeks of school, when masks were optional. That’s an average of more than 11 per week.
The week after the district set its mask requirement for all students and staff on Sept. 27, only two of the five students who were exposed to COVID-19 required quarantine. This past week, no close contacts were quarantined despite 11 students testing positive — “a dramatic change,” Morckel noted.
Under current Ohio Department of Health guidelines, those determined to have close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 don’t have to quarantine as long as students and teachers were all wearing masks and at least three feet apart, and other safety measures were in place.