The School District of Maple will no longer require students to quarantine if they come into close contact at school with someone who tests positive for COVID-19. The Maple School Board voted unanimously for the move at a special board meeting Wednesday, May 12.

The decision only affects students who come into close contact during school or at a school-related activity, including sports. If the close contact occurred outside of school, such as through a family member or sleepover, students would be required to quarantine. Students with no symptoms would be allowed to return to school after eight days if they test negative for the virus on days 5, 6 or 7, or in 10 days with no test.

A similar motion, without wording about family contacts, was approved at the regular board meeting Monday, May 10. It was rescinded during the special meeting and reinstated, with the new wording.

"This is all about clarity," District Administrator Sara Croney said about giving proper notice to the community.

The motion, which was proposed by Board Treasurer Adam Landwehr Monday, had not been on the agenda. It was brought up as the board was weighing COVID-19 safety protocol for summer school and a recommendation from administrators to shorten close contact quarantine for seniors to seven days. Croney said that lack of proper notice to the public made the special meeting necessary.

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According to information presented Monday, about 742 Maple students have been quarantined this year due to close contact with a person who tested positive. Although about 43 of those students later tested positive, school nurse Kristin Clemmer told board members there has been only one confirmed case of student-to-student contact that they are aware of.

“I don’t feel personally that it’s in the best interest of the students to continue to quarantine them and keep them out of school when the best thing for them is to be in school, based on the numbers that we have here,” Landwehr said Monday.

He also pointed to the availability of free vaccines as a reason for the policy shift. Parents will still be notified of the close contact and can choose to keep their child home.

“I think you can put the decision on the family only because at this point, I think everybody from the age of 18 and up has had an opportunity to be vaccinated,” Landwehr said. “So you can either choose to be vaccinated or you can choose to assume the risk to not be vaccinated.”

Douglas County Public Health Officer Kathy Ronchi and Bayfield County Health Director Sara Wartman spoke to the board Wednesday, May 12. Ronchi said that she was concerned about the abrupt drop of quarantine; the Monday motion had the change taking effect immediately. COVID-19 is still out there, she said.

There have been more than 62 positive cases in the last 10 days in Douglas County, including 10 school-age children, five of whom live in the Maple School District. It's important to be mindful when addressing the issue, she said.

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"If you're going to change a policy, we need to include in that policy monitoring cases," Ronchi said, and maintaining flexibility if case rates in the county change. "There's things that we can put into place to assure that this is a good idea, and that it's not going to come back to bite you, not have a huge outbreak happen and the liability that comes with all that."

Wartman said Bayfield County continues to recommend a 14-day quarantine, which is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention best practice, because they are still seeing people getting sick on Day 13 after exposure. She said the county currently has outbreaks at two schools. Districts may be using unreliable data, which has been collected under extreme conditions. Public health should take the lead in quarantine decisions and has the power to enforce them, Wartman said.

A number of parents spoke in favor of the decision to eliminate quarantine for close contacts at school, citing the effect missing school has had on student mental health and grades.

None of the district's other safety protocols were changed. The use of masks, social distancing guidelines and other measures remained in place.

"The fact that you're still requiring the masking kind of makes it a lot easier for me," Ronchi said. "There are schools that are not requiring masking and they're going away from quarantine and it's becoming a huge legal battle, because those people are much more at risk."

Parents will still be alerted about close contacts and what symptoms to watch for, board members said. They stressed that they had the best interest of students at heart.

In other action Monday, the board voted to allow summer school students to remove masks when they are outdoors and approved a recommendation by the administration to allow district office staff to work without masks unless a visitor enters the office.

A full recording of the Monday meeting is available to watch at youtube.com/watch?v=HSykDAMbnzU and the Wednesday special meeting is available at youtube.com/watch?v=Rjh00JhxByw.