Louisiana is going to lift the statewide indoor mask mandate, except for schools that allow parents to decide whether to quarantine their kids after a COVID-19 exposure in the classroom, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday.
“I stand here today optimistic, relieved that the worst of the fourth surge is very clearly behind us now,” said Edwards, who reinstated the mask mandate in August as the state faced an increase in COVID-19 cases driven by the Delta variant of the virus. He said the improved situation was a “direct result” of the people who chose to get vaccinated and follow masks rules and other restrictions.
He added that while the mask mandate will stay in place for K-12 schools, school districts can opt-out if they follow the existing quarantine guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In general, the CDC recommends that students who come in “close contact” with someone who has COVID-19 spend two weeks at home before going back to the classroom.
Edwards was referring to schools districts that are not enrolling in the “parent choice” quarantine option that was put forward by the Louisiana Department of Education earlier this month.
Under the new policy, if a school system decides to implement the parent choice option, it will no longer require mandatory quarantines for students defined as close contact, according to the department. Instead, the parent will be immediately notified of the exposure and given the option to quarantine their child or allow them to remain in school. The parents will also be offered a free COVID-19 screening for their child.
The policy, apparently at odds with quarantine practices recommended by the state and federal health authorities, was meant to minimize learning loss, according to Louisiana Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley.
“We can no longer ignore the unintended academic consequences of our students unnecessarily missing school,” said Brumley when announcing the option. “This new, common-sense option empowers parents and local communities with the authority to make health-related decisions for their students.”
Dr. Joseph Kanter, who heads the Louisiana Department of Health, has spoken against the parent choice option.
“I think this is a bad call,” Kanter said, reported New Orleans radio station WWNO. “I think it is dangerous. I think it is going to put kids at risk.”
The policy also faced opposition from the state’s teachers’ union. In an Oct. 12 statement, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers said that they “cannot prioritize test scores over the health and well-being of children, especially when there are better solutions available.”
“If school districts decide to adopt this new recommendation from the LDOE then we will undoubtedly see increased spread of COVID-19 in schools and more children and staff sick,” the union said.