St. Joseph Public Schools

ST. JOSEPH — St. Joseph Public Schools has instituted a policy to avoid quarantine for asymptomatic students – who are both vaccinated and unvaccinated.

The policy was announced Monday at a board workshop. Superintendent Jenny Fee said she had received a call from the Berrien County Health Department that day, allowing districts with universal mask mandates to avoid quarantining asymptomatic close contacts.

Because of universal masking, Fee said, if there is only one positive case within a classroom, asymptomatic close contacts do not have to quarantine, regardless of vaccination status.

“Those kids can now be in school, where before if they were a close contact, and they were unvaccinated, they would have to go to remote learning,” Fee said.

The policy was retroactive, meaning asymptomatic students who were in quarantine could return to classes. Fee said parents were grateful when they received the phone calls informing them of the change Monday.

Before the public comment section, Board President Barry Conybeare read a statement, explaining the district’s decision to continue a universal masking mandate after the health department repealed its mandate. The statement included four tools the universal mask mandate gives the school access to.

“That option is only available to schools with a universal mask mandate,” Fee said.

Because the district requires mask-wearing, the statement said it also has the option of “test to stay,” following an unvaccinated close contact, which was already available to the district.

When two cases take place in a classroom, unvaccinated students have the option of:

Quarantining for 10 days after close contact.

Quarantining for seven days after close contact and a negative test on the fifth, sixth and seventh day.

Testing to stay, by providing the school with a negative test every morning for seven days after contact.

St. Joseph schools will provide testing opportunities at its central office every morning for quarantined students, as will Berrien RESA and Lake Michigan College, the statement read. Vaccinated close contacts do not have quarantine.

The old quarantine restrictions still apply to students in the lunchroom, where masks are not worn.

At Monday’s meeting, Fee said about 60 people attended and more than 25 spoke, most against the mask mandate. Public comments lasted for roughly two hours.

In the 50-plus emails she has received since the board maintained the mask mandate, Fee said the opposite was true: most were in support of masking.

The school board’s statement also included these factors had played a role in the mandate: “guidance and mandates from medical and public health experts, school spread, community spread, student and staff quarantines, number of school and community positive cases, hospitalizations and ICU demand, vaccine availability, vaccination rates, quarantine requirements and stability of conditions overtime.”

Contact: jknot@TheHP.com, 932-0360, Twitter: @knotjuliana