Waukesha School Board votes to end COVID-19 quarantine of students and staff, county issues guidelines

NOW: Waukesha School Board votes to end COVID-19 quarantine of students and staff, county issues guidelines

Updated: 5:30 a.m. on May 7

WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) -- Waukesha County is amending the quarantine K-12 guidelines.

According to the county’s website, quarantine guidelines will relax to allow students and adults possibly exposed to COVID-19 into schools to in-person learn if the following are met:

  • The school has committed to COVID-19 prevention policies, which include the following: mask wearing, implementing strategies to maximize distance between students, handwashing, ventilation, and management of students exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
  • Close contacts remain symptom-free and agree to self-monitor for symptoms a full 14 days following exposure. Close contacts will immediately remove themselves from the school environment if symptoms develop.
  • Close contacts strongly consider getting tested on day 6 or 7 after exposure to help identify asymptomatic spread.

As cited on the county’s website, “the above guidelines only apply to exposures occurring in school settings when mitigation efforts are in place”. The county is also encouraging teens and adults to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

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WAUKESHA, Wis. (CBS 58) – The Waukesha School Board of Education voted on Tuesday, May 4, to end the district’s quarantine procedures immediately.

Board members voted 5-4 not to require Waukesha students to quarantine if they are exposed to COVID-19.

"If we keep the current quarantine measures in place as they are, we are going to have most likely a large amount of students pushed out and pushed into virtual (learning)," said board member Corey Montiho.

Prior to the vote, students and staff who had close contact with an individual that tested positive, was presumed to be positive or was awaiting a COVID-19 test were put in quarantine.

According to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard, around 125 students and staff were in quarantine as of May 4.

"I think it's terribly irresponsible," said parent Jason Witt of the board's decision. "I think this point in the school year with such little time left, I think there's decisions being made right now that are based purely on politics and not on the safety and well-being of the children, the staff."

Board member Kelly Piacsek cited the health concerns associated with keeping students home.

"A hundred fifty to 250 kids are getting quarantined to save a case, and we know how hard it is for kids to not be in school," Piacsek said.

All students who were in quarantine at the time of the vote were able to return to school on Wednesday, May 5. Students and staff are able to self-quarantine if they want.

The district will continue its contact tracing efforts and will continue notifying families and staff if they come into contact with someone who has COVID-19.

"We have had very few cases that have been transmitted in school, and we've had very few kids who have been quarantined actually test positive," Superintendent Dr. Jim Sebert told CBS 58 in an interview.

More than 8,000 students have quarantined, Sebert said. Some students could be counted more than once if they've quarantined more than once.

On October 28, 2020, the district said around 900 students were in quarantine after being exposed to someone with the virus.

Sebert said as the school year wraps up, he doesn't want students to miss out on activities.

"Graduations, proms, end-of-year celebrations at the lower levels: there's just a number of things -- AP tests -- that you really don't want kids to miss," he said.

The school board's 5-4 decision showed the board was split. Two board members said they thought the quarantine guidelines should be laxed but not thrown out completely.

"My problem is that this is an absolute. This is an absolute. Like, there is no more quarantining essentially. And I guess that's still troubling me," said the board's clerk, Bill Baumgart.

"I think that the quarantine is too stringent right now. But I, too, don't want to go as far as the what the motion is on the table," said board president Joseph Como Jr..

Sebert said many staff members have been vaccinated.

"The EAW feels as though the decision to end quarantines in their entirety was not about missed educational time, it was about politics and a power grab," Carrie Kummrow, co-president of the Education Association of Waukesha, said in a statement.

She continued: "Given the small number of students and staff currently in quarantine (total of 120 in an extremely large district), there was no need for an "emergency meeting." There was a regular board meeting already scheduled for next Wednesday. Quarantines could have been discussed and voted on there. The elementary schools have been open face-to-face all year. The mitigation policies that were put in place, including quarantines, kept us open all year, and now, with just over a month to go, they want to make changes."

Next week, the school board will examine all of the district's COVID-19 mitigation strategies, including the mask policy.

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