Douglas County School District changes quarantine protocols

District staff hope new guidance will decrease disruption to learning

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The Douglas County School District is changing its approach to COVID-19 quarantines — under the blessing of new state guidelines — in hopes the new protocols will lessen the scope of quarantines and as a result, lessen the disruption to students' education.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment relaxed guidance for quarantines after the first several weeks of school resulted in thousands of students in the state being sent home and asked to quarantine.

School board President David Ray said the changes were “a wow moment” that would bring some relief with quarantining.

Douglas County School District Personalized Learning Officer Nancy Ingalls said the district can now choose between implementing what's called “standard contact identification” and “targeted contact identification” when deciding who needs to quarantine.

The standard process is used when a class or cohort stay together for more than one class period.

“Which means that when we've had a positive case in a school, the entire classroom or classrooms have been in quarantine, and as you know that has made a big impact on our school district as well as others,” Ingalls said.

With standard contact identification, people need to quarantine if they were in the same classroom with a sick individual for more than one period, if they were within 6 feet of the individual for at least 15 minutes while both parties wore masks, or if they were within 12 feet of the individual for at least 15 minutes while either party was unmasked.

With targeted contact identification, people need to quarantine if they are identified as a “close contact” — where they were within six feet of the individual for at least 15 minutes while wearing masks or within 12 feet of the individual for at least 15 minutes without masks.

A number of requirements need to be met to use the targeted process.

The county must be at level 1 or 2 of Safer at Home, there can't be an additional positive case in the same classroom, and classrooms have to use seating charts. Staff will use seating charts to determine who had close contact with a sick individual, Ingalls said.

Ingalls said the targeted approach will not be used at elementary schools because they do not meet all the requirements.

Elementary schools returned to full in-person learning on Oct. 19 and now group classes into their own cohorts.

Previously, the “standard contact identification” was applied to any situation in which quarantines were needed. Numerous district schools experienced quarantines following known or presumed COVID-19 exposures.

Some exposures left so many staff and students quarantined that schools transitioned to full virtual learning for two weeks. A substitute teacher shortage also contributed to the decision to switch schools to temporary virtual learning, when not enough substitutes were available to work for quarantined teachers.

Ingalls said the targeted approach will no longer require quarantining an entire class. In some situations, a teacher may not need to quarantine either. The district will still need to use the standard approach in some circumstances.

The district hopes that means fewer interruptions to students' learning and possibly some relief to the district's substitute teacher shortage.

“We hope to see an improvement in our in-person attendance for students,” she said.

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