ARKANSAS, USA — Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has announced changes to schools' quarantine guidelines to keep more kids in the classroom.
Staff and students at schools with a 70% vaccination rate will no longer be required to quarantine. Hutchinson says this 70% must include all students, even those who aren't yet eligible to get the vaccine. He hopes this change will increase the vaccination rate, especially once younger children become eligible.
He also announced the "Test to Stay" protocol, allowing unvaccinated students who come in contact with someone who tests positive to stay in school and not quarantine under two conditions. That student would have to take a rapid test and test negative and agree to wear a mask. He says this will be a pilot program, and districts can participate on a first-come basis.
"The testing is a means to make sure there isn't anybody that can infect others in the school environment," Hutchinson said. "The wearing of masks can accomplish the same things, as can vaccinations. So, we are not compromising health standards, but we are giving options so that we can minimize quarantine and give school districts options to look at."
Families struggling with the quarantine aspect of school were interested to hear the 'Test to Stay' policy. Melissa Koller is the mother of an eighth-grader at Alma Middle School who is unvaccinated. Koller says she has been quarantined twice this month for COVID exposure at school.
“Since I live in a school district where we do not mask our children with a mandate and of course since the vaccine is not a mandate itself either, it feels like the Arkansas Department of Health rules for quarantine has become a whip," said Melissa.
She feels the quarantine guidelines are pushing parents to get their children vaccinated so their children can stay in school and not be quarantined.
“It feels like a whip for schools not mandating a mask because if you don’t have a school that’s mandating masks what is the average of kids that both the one who got COVID and the one who got exposed wearing masks, it’s going to be very low," said Melissa.
Springdale Schools Director of Communications Trent Jones says they want to minimize the impact of quarantining healthy students.
"The pandemic impacts all of us in pretty serious ways, and one thing we have found is that through these quarantining's, a lot of times healthy students are being sent home," he said.
Jones told 5NEWS there isn't a timeline right now for when this program could start, but they look forward to working with the state.
"We are very proud of Springdale Schools being at the forefront of helping to create healthy environments to the best of our ability," Jones said. "I think we all know that school is the heartbeat of the community, and school reflects the health of the community."