A newly-formed group of Fulton County parents on Monday issued a public plea to loosen COVID-19 restrictions in schools and return to daily in-person school by the fall.
The parents, about 600 of whom came together on Facebook in recent weeks to form a group calling itself “Quarantine the Quarantine,” is asking state and local health officials to curtail the use of student quarantines in the school setting to just those students who test positive – not those also deemed close contacts. The parents also want to see all schools opened at full capacity and mask mandates limited and determined by local school districts.
“As parents, these are not requests we take lightly,” the parent group wrote in a letter to state and local health officials and Fulton County school superintendents. “Keep in mind that the quarantine mantra in NYS was originally presented as 14 days to flatten the curve, then 30 days to slow the spread, and here we are potentially going into a third school year with the learning process significantly disrupted.”
Tamara Dunlap, a parent of three Broadalbin-Perth children and a representative of the parent group, said the group hopes to press the case that existing health precautions inside schools are overly restrictive and causing more harm to children by disrupting their academic and social development. She said the group wants to start its advocacy work now with the aim of ensuring a full return to class in the fall.
“If we don’t start now, there is no chance things will be any different than in September” when next school year begins, she said.
Dunlap said her fourth-grade daughter attends in-person school daily, but that her eighth- and 10th-grade sons are only in-person every other day, with opposite schedules from one another. She said all of her kids have been quarantined at least once this year. At one point, her oldest son shifted to learn remotely so he could avoid the potential of being quarantined, which would have limited his ability to participate in club sports and other activities. He rejoined the in-person rotation after struggling to learn effectively remotely, she said.
Dunlap said her family has paid for retired teachers to help their children as tutors and has the means to offer them other social opportunities, but she has also watched them suffer socially and academically this year. She said she knows of other students who are struggling with their mental health and that the parents in the group shared similar stories of their children’s deep struggles this school year.
The parent group is primarily focused on the guidelines schools and county health agencies use to determine who was potentially exposed in the event of a positive COVID-19 case. Entire classrooms across the state have been sent home to quarantine after a single positive case but some county health departments more recently have sought to limit the extent of the mass quarantines. State health officials also recently adopted federal protocols that enable schools to separate kids by three feet instead of six feet – though those rules are still limited in counties still deemed high risk of transmission, most of the state. Fulton County has consistently had among the highest test positivity rates in the region throughout the pandemic. The county’s seven-day average for positive test results stood just above 4 percent on Monday.
“We feel Fulton County is very strict compared to other counties, but I think at the end of the day it’s the state guidelines that have to change,” Dunlap said, adding that she thinks the local school districts are making the best of a difficult situation.
The parents, though, argue that the restrictions put in place in schools have not been in proportion to the risk of transmission in schools or the risk the virus poses to school-age kids. The restrictions have instead created new social, emotional and academic harms for students trying to learn amid so many disruptions. As the parent group started to reach out to different agencies and officials, Dunlap said it’s been hard to get a straight answer about who has the final say on the quarantine rules or the decisions that impact their kids.
“No one seems to help and everyone is blaming everyone else,” she said. “No one is taking accountability for who is actually enforcing the rules.”