Some Ankeny parents are frustrated after receiving a letter Wednesday night that the Ankeny Community School District will not require students to quarantine if they have been exposed to a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.
“At this time, our public health authorities have informed us that the district may not quarantine students,” said the letter from Erick Pruitt, who began as district superintendent in July. “We will continue to collaborate with the Iowa Department of Public Health and the Polk County Health Department to ensure our actions are aligned with their direction. We recognize that this guidance is subject to change. Please refer to the Iowa Department of Public Health for the most recent guidance.”
Ankeny is the sixth-largest district in the state with more than 12,000 students and 2,285 employees, according to the district website.
LaKeshia Richmond of Ankeny is a mother of three children. The family chose virtual learning for their kids last year.
“We were looking forward to going back to school this year,” Richmond said. “Once again our family is thrown a curveball regarding the pandemic and schools.”
IowaWatch contacted Pruitt for comment and did not hear back at the time of publication.
The Polk County Department of Public Health said they didn’t advise the school on that letter but indicated they are bound by the laws and guidance of the Iowa Department of Public Health IDPH).
Nola Aigner Davis of the Polk County Health Department clarified quarantine only applies to a child who has been exposed to a COVID-19 positive individual. However, if a child tests positive for COVID-19 they must stay home.
“There is a sick child policy [for the district] so if a child tests positive they must stay home,” Aigner Davis said.
Schools are required to provide face-to-face learning this fall; however, a district can opt to implement hybrid and virtual learning models as well.
With no mitigation strategies mandated in Iowa, online learning may be the only option some medically fragile children have.
“My 8-year-old daughter was a preemie and was on oxygen for six months,” Ankeny parent Ashley Lappe said. Her daughter was diagnosed with chronic lung disease as an infant.
Luckily her daughter has been healthy and was looking forward to being back in school this fall.
Lappe chose a hybrid option that worked for her family last year. But now Lappe is not sure what to do if the school doesn’t offer hybrid or online learning models again this year.
“I don’t want to send my daughter to school only for her to get COVID and find out the hard way that she is medically fragile,” Lappe said.
Iowa public health department Director Kelly Garcia on May 14, 2021, issued COVID-19 guidance to public schools. The letter provides revised medical guidance that children who have been in close contact with a person who tested positive for COVID-19 do not need to be quarantined. Garcia is not a medical doctor.
“This is not founded in science,” Dr. Megan Srinivas, a Fort Dodge infectious disease doctor, said. “I do not understand how this guidance was decided on as it goes against everything the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and medical professionals advise.”
“We know kids can fall seriously ill with COVID-19, which can have long term health implications,” Srinivas said, “and we know that kids can be completely asymptomatic but still transmit the COVID19 virus.”
In July, the CDC issued a science brief, “Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K-12 Schools.” Since children can be asymptomatic carriers the CDC encourages proactive screening testing in schools to promptly identify cases and that mitigation strategies including isolation and quarantine be implemented to ensure kids stay healthy, according to the brief.
Pruit’s letter mainly focused on face masks, stating that the Ankeny district could not require masks to be worn. A law signed by Reynolds in May bans mask mandates in schools, cities and counties, with some education and extracurricular activity exceptions. There is no law backing Garcia’s direction on quarantines.
The superintendent’s letter says that families are encouraged to decide what steps are best for them and that other mitigation practices for the upcoming school year will be discussed at the Aug. 3 board meeting.
IowaWatch also contacted the Iowa Board of Education, the 10-member panel that provides “oversight, supervision, and support for the state education system,” to find out if they reviewed the governor and Garcia’s school guidance to ensure no disabled child or medically fragile child’s civil rights would be violated by not requiring quarantining, masking or proactive screening. Students are ensured equal access to education under the Americans With Disability Act and Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA).
The education board did not return calls Thursday. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office and IDPH also did not respond to IowaWatch at time of publication.
Andy Kopsa is a freelance writer and native Iowan who occasionally reports and writes for IowaWatch.