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SACS’ new COVID-19 quarantining proposal may not stand up to state scrutiny

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (Fort Wayne's NBC) -- A lot of questions remain after the board at Southwest Allen County Schools voted Tuesday night to change the way the district handles COVID contact tracing and quarantining.

"Does it really make sense that you can skip quarantining only if the school district mandates masking?" SACS board member Tom Rhoades asked.

At a highly charged SACS board meeting Tuesday night, Rhoades proposed changes to contact tracing and quaratining rules in order to try to keep as many kids in classrooms as possible and not at home quarantining because of a possible exposure to COVID.

The board approved the measure with a 4-1 vote.

Southwest Allen continues to recommend all people in its buildings wear masks, not require them to like the CDC and state and local health leaders strongly encourage.

The state Department of Health says if face coverings are mandated, contacts within three feet must monitor for symptoms for 14 days.

If masks are not required and a positive case is contact traced, unmasked people who had been within six feet of the person must quarantine for at least seven days.

SACS board member Tom Rhoades believes more students would voluntarily mask up if they didn't have to quarantine and their parents didn't have to adjust their work schedules.

Rhoades questions why quarantines would be necessary if the positive person and close contact happened to have been wearing masks.

"If contact tracing is allowed between two students who are masked then shouldn't that also be an option whether your school mandates masking or not? You may have more quarantines occurring but it gives parents and students a choice," Rhoades said.

He believes more students would voluntarily mask up if they didn't have to quarantine and their parents didn't have to adjust their work schedules.

"I certainly believe we would see more masks than we do now," he said.

While the board did not set a date for the district's new rule to take effect, it might not be able to.

State rules surpass anything passed at a local level, and Allen County's health commissioner says not only would it be extremely difficult to determine who might have been wearing a mask at a particular time, the statistics prove that masks reduce covid transmission.

"What we saw last year is that when whole classrooms were masking, there was almost no spread, and that's exactly what we'd like to see. That's what would allow us to continue in-person school. What was saw is in other situations where kids were gathering indoors without masks, there was a tremendous amount of COVID transmission and spread," Dr. Matthew Sutter said.

Rhoades says his proposal to change quarantine procedure must be approved legally before a start date could be implemented.

We did reach out to state health officials for clarification and they reiterated that local boards can only implement more restrictive contact tracing and quarantining policies, not less.

We asked what would happen if a board took action in conflict with that but did not get an immediate response to that question.

To search COVID statistics for a specific school, click on the "school" option here.

Corinne Rose

Corinne Rose is a reporter for WPTA.

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