After Gov. Eric Holcomb’s recent executive order requiring all COVID-19 close contacts to quarantine in schools that do not require masks, Southwestern Jefferson County Consoidated School Corporation announced Friday that a new quarantine policy approved by the school board on Aug. 30 will not be implemented.

Due to the high numbers of students quarantining based on close contacts, the board had approved remaining as a “mask optional” system while allowing those who had close contacted a COVID positive person to avoid quarantine if the close contact was wearing a mask within six feet of the COVID positive individual.

“One-half of one% of our kids who quarantine as a close contact end up positive,” noted Superintendent Jeffrey Bates. “We have students quarantining and they are not catching the virus. For one-half of one%, that’s a lot kids staying home for no reason.”

Bates said the Governor’s executive order makes it more challenging for Southwestern to quarantine fewer students who are COVID close contacts while maintaining the “mask optional” policy. “That’s what we were trying to do,” he said.

However, he said Southwestern’s numbers are “going in the right direction” with quarantine numbers declining. The high school had shifted to virtual learning on Aug. 30 due to the high number of students in quarantine, but Bates said students returned to in-person on Sept. 7, and the situation now is much better. He said in-person has continued for both the middle school and elementary school, although he said “we do have middle schoolers on quarantine.”

Bates said if Southwestern begins to see a significant increase in the number of students that have to quarantine, the school board will have to evaluate its “mask optional” policy.

“We’ll either have to make masks required, and not quarantine, or stay optional and quarantine,” for those instances of COVID positive close contacts, he said.

In a letter that was sent to parents and guardians on Friday, school officials stated that “at this time, Southwestern Schools are still operating with the same masking and quarantine guidelines that we began the school year with” and are following Indiana Department of Health guidelines, which require unvaccinated close contacts to quarantine (asymptomatic vaccinated individuals do not have to quarantine).