Oklahoma State Department of Health Regional Director Terri Salisbury informs the Woodward Public Schools Board of Education that modifying quarantine and isolation protocol is against state statutes. (Photo by Dawnita Fogleman)

The Woodward Public Schools (WPS) Board of Education passed a mask mandate and COVID-19 quarantine and isolation modification plan Wednesday evening during a special meeting.

After increased anxiety about students missing school from several rounds of quarantine, the special meeting was called.

Four board members were present for the meeting that was transmitted virtually for school staff and members of AllianceHealth Woodward to attend.

Modifications include potentially not having to observe a full 14-day quarantine if individuals were correctly wearing the appropriate masks during exposure.

“The state statute states that the health department has the regulatory power in the State of Oklahoma to mandate quarantine and isolation,” Oklahoma State Department of Health Regional Director Terri Salisbury said. “District courts can become involved if there's a violation of isolation and quarantine.”

Salisbury went on to clarify they were not trying to seek or pursue legal orders at this time.

“A lot depends on the situation,” Salisbury went on. “Because if you have a reduced quarantine order policy for the school that says that a contact with a mask can attend school, contact that’s been within six feet for greater than 15 minutes, then that actually is against what the current policy of the State Department of Health is.”

Salisbury clarified that every situation has to be looked at differently.

“Corona’s a novel virus,” Salisbury said. “It changes weekly at the state health department, things that we do, ways we do things.”

Board Member Chad Mead clarified, “If I'm understanding correctly, if we change anything, there's possible legal ramifications.”

According to Superintendent Kyle Reynolds, many Oklahoma schools have just adopted this type of measure, but not done so formally, just doing it under the table quietly.

“I feel like personally, the health department eventually is going to come around to, and the CDC likely as well, will come around to a modification of what we're doing today,” Reynolds said. “I don't want the health department to think I'm the one behind their back. I feel like that's disrespectful and dishonest and not transparent. I also think that what keeps us in school is kids and staff wearing masks.”

Reynolds went on to say the proposed quarantine and isolation protocol modifications would be the motivation and reward for having to wear a mask.

“The thing that we can't control is what they do when they walk out our doors,” Reynolds admitted. “My hope is that the more we're able to be successful within the classrooms and within the walls of our schools, the more that will be ingrained with our students and encourage them to be safer out in the community.”

According to AllianceHealth Woodward Infections Disease Control Specialist Chresta Phelps, if the kids have to wear masks, the parents will go ahead and do it out of empathy. She also expressed concern that younger children aren’t being sent home because parents are still working and are instead, being sent to grandparents who are more at risk.

“Woodward hospital and the rest of the Oklahoma hospitals that have ICU are at capacity and finding a bed has become increasingly difficult,” AllianceHealth Woodward CEO Landon E. Hise said to the News earlier Wednesday. “Many patients from Oklahoma have been transported out of state to find a bed. Most hospitals are also experiencing staffing shortages. We need to continue to take this virus seriously and wear masks. I can't stress that enough, wear a mask! It's not a political statement to wear a mask, it saves lives.”

Board Member Leah Barby made the motion to establish a mask mandate the Monday after Thanksgiving.

“Over the course of the last two or three weeks particular, I am becoming much more of a firm believer in that it's time that we initiate this,” Barby said.

Of the four board members present, Shane Smithton and Chad Mead voted yes with Barby. Lance Semmel voted no.

Disciplinary actions for not wearing a mask will be handled as a dress code violation, according to WPS High School Principal Ron Sunderland.

Early Childhood Center and Elementary students will be isolated together and only have to wear masks in between classrooms.

“It's a real challenge to keep a mask on children that are 10 and under all through the day,” Reynolds said. “In the classroom, it's not feasible for that age of a child.”

Parents will be offered options of quarantine as a class, a blended virtual program or a distance learning through Google classroom.

“I think parents are going to jump at that opportunity by and large,” Reynolds predicted. “Because if not, where are the kids going? They've got to take off work. They've got to get a grandparent to watch them. They've got to find a babysitter or something. It's challenging.”

Semmel motioned to approve quarantine and isolation modifications. Mead seconded and all board members agreed.

According to Reynolds the school will pull the plug on the quarantine and isolation modifications if active covid case numbers in the schools increase or the state threatens to take legal action.

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