Neosho School District reverts back to 14 day quarantine policy

Diamond, Seneca and East Newton move forward with flexible policy.

NEWTON COUNTY, Mo. – “As of last week, we have zero deaths in age zero to 17 years-of-age, and yet we continue to quarantine multiple students,” says Neosho Superintendent Jim Cummins.

Last week, the Newton County Health Department approved a local policy that would allow students who were under quarantine, but didn’t test positive and didn’t have symptoms, to go to school. That is, with the requirement that they wear a mask all day, social distance — and only go to school and then go home.

“We had one school district that had 0.13 percent of its student body that was positive. But yet, four-percent were being quarantined. And we found that those who were on quarantine were not getting sick, and not coming back positive,” says Newton County Health Department Administrator Larry Bergner. “It’s still early, and time will tell with those numbers. But if we are sending home that amount of student body, you take away the educational experience, you take away some of the nutritional value. Some kids are experiencing the mental health effects of depression, for being home for so many months and away from that social interaction. And we were hoping that this would provide an option to keep those kids in school. Find that balance to keep the entire student body healthy and whole.”

Neosho and Diamond both planned to move forward with the policy, with Neosho implementing it on the 15th. Then, the Missouri Department of Secondary and Elementary Education and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services voiced their opposition to the policy.

When the departments started voicing concerns, the Neosho School District stated they, and others involved, planned to revisit the plans. They also encouraged residents to voice their opinions to Representatives Ben Baker and Derrick Deaton.

Response to Quarantine Procedure

“The state departments, since the beginning, have deferred to the local health department and the schools and said you guys make the decisions. Here are our guidelines, but you make the decisions. So it was kind of interesting to see how it played out in this situation,” says Representative Ben Baker. “Some of the top decision makers, whether it’s the CDC or WHO or even the state departments have sometimes had tunnel vision through all of this. They only look at the COVID health side of this. That’s important and we should be, but there are other issues when it comes to health and I think it’s important that we look at that. I think really for our local authorities to be able to look at the data, look at what’s happening in their schools, [those] are gonna be the best decisions that are gonna be made.”

“You find yourself a little bit on an island when the state departments get involved and voice their displeasure,” adds Cummins.

On 09/18, we reached out to both departments, with DESE saying they expressed serious concerns about deviating from the existing state and national standards of care. However, they will allow Newton County schools to adopt this policy if they want, stating Missouri is a local control state.

After meeting with each the departments, Bergner is moving forward with the new policy — leaving the ultimate decision up to each district.

Diamond, Seneca and East Newton are all moving forward with the new flexible policy, making sure they take extra precautions and understanding that they might have to revert back to the standard policy at any time.

But Neosho is taking a step back, reverting to the standard 14 day quarantine policy.

“I think Neosho School District now has too many positive things going to end up in a situation where we’ve got neighbor against neighbor. This thing has become a lightning rod,” says Cummins.

He says that they have around 60 percent of parents who want the new policy implemented, with 40 percent being against it. The district does have the latitude to implement the policy at any time, but they want to see if any action is taken at the state level.

“I admire those schools that can continue to implement that and there may be more of a mandate in their community. But for us right now, we needed to pull it back and see if some of these changes can happen on a larger scale,” says Cummins. “I encourage everybody that’s in some sort of advocacy role to consider the impact that these quarantines have on our students. My job is to advocate for the students, and that’s what we’re gonna continue doing.”

Previous story on this topic:

Most recent release from NSD:

Neosho School District - Quarantine Procedure Release 9-21-20