Head Principal Nathanael Hostetler Discusses Modified Quarantine Protocol


Credit to Alise Simon

Junior Ellie Miller wears a mask while working in the Learning Commons. Mask-wearing is an important part of ensuring that the new quarantine policy is safe and effective.

By Ashlynn Perez, Web Editor-in-Chief

FHSD has announced new student quarantine protocol following an announcement from Governor Mike Parson about the shift of expectations in Missouri. Close contact quarantines have become “modified quarantines.” Close contacts are now quarantined with the exception of school, where they can attend as normal as long as both parties are correctly wearing masks. 

The modified quarantine policy went into effect today, Nov. 30. Head principal Nathanael Hostetler discusses the details of the policy and how it will affect the FHN community.

What’s the new policy?

“For a long time now, since we started, we’ve been doing contact tracing and quarantines based on whether somebody’s been within six feet for fifteen or more minutes. That’s considered a close contact. That is still the case – it’s still considered a close contact. What’s changing is quarantine rules.

If the exposure takes place at school, with both parties masked, then the close contact receives a modified quarantine. Essentially that quarantine says that they cannot attend work, they can’t participate in extracurricular activities, and they have to quarantine with the exception of their time at school, because everyone here is masked. So that’s the big change. 

But you can imagine that at lunch, people are not going to be masked, so somebody who tests positive for COVID-19 will still create a few contact traces with standard quarantines. If you tested positive, the people at your lunch table would receive a full quarantine, and then the folks in your class – assuming they wore their mask and you did as well – would receive a modified quarantine, so they’d still have to stay home with the exception of school.”

What management level was this decision made on?

“This was actually the county health department. Schools in this regard are not governed by the federal government or the state government, but by county departments of health. Their guidance is what determines what we do. 

Governor Parson made a statement and then the county had time to adapt and figure out how we were going to adjust to those expectations. Then once we got word from them on Tuesday, we pushed all that information out as quickly as we could so that people were aware of what that was going to look like, but this is a county-level decision.”

How does this benefit FHN and students?

“Quarantine has been really disruptive, academically. I don’t know the exact number to date, but it’s somewhere between 400 and 450 kids that we’ve quarantined in this school alone. Last week we got word from the district office that we’ve had over 17,000 days of student absences, so that’s just incredibly disruptive for students, for teachers, for parents. So this will be a very significant relief academically. Students who have been quarantined know it’s hard. It’s really hard. So not having to worry about that is going to be a big deal. For teachers not to have to worry about giving instruction in-person and virtually at the turn of the heel is going to be a big deal.”

What would be your word of advice to students with the new policy?

“Like I said, we’ve quarantined between 400 and 450 kids. We’ve had exactly one student test positive for COVID-19 due to an exposure here at school, and that exposure took place at the lunch table where people were unmasked. So we have to wear masks. It’s as simple as that. Keep the mask on, wear it right, keep it over your nose. Do what you need to do. Particularly with the idea of modified contact tracing, masks are going to be legitimately what enable us to stay open and stay safe. 

It makes no sense to argue that there’s no increase whatsoever in risk by modified quarantine. My suspicion based on the numbers we’re seeing so far is that the risk is very, very low, but it’s certainly not zero. And the big hole in the data, the big question, is how many students are asymptomatic? If we’ve only had one instance of someone testing positive for COVID-19 after a contact trace, it still begs the question about the kids who were asymptomatic and may have never received a test. 

So while I think the risk is comparatively small, I don’t think it’s zero. We just have to wear the masks. We’re just adapting to the guidance that we get, and the guidance changes regularly.”