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Nation & World

Critics Pan School Experiment To Corral Students Exposed To COVID-19

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

A school district in Oklahoma has a unique approach to getting students back into the classroom, even as coronavirus cases are spreading through schools across the country. Rather than sending students home after they've been exposed to the virus, they're finding a way to keep them on site. Here's StateImpact Oklahoma's Robby Korth.

ROBBY KORTH, HOST:

It works like this. If a high school student in Mustang, Okla., is exposed to COVID-19 but hasn't tested positive, they'll remain in school but segregate from other students in quarantine classrooms.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LANCE FRYE: It's an innovative way to safely keep kids in school so they can continue their academic studies and will give us more data to drive our response to the virus.

KORTH: That's state health commissioner Lance Frye. Initially, 20 students will take part. They'll be tested daily, and those who are positive for COVID-19 will be sent home to isolate. Educators and medical professionals have panned the move. Oklahoma Education Association President Alicia Priest says it's a bad idea to put teachers with students who might have COVID.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALICIA PRIEST: Educators aren't guinea pigs to be used as an experiment. It's offensive, irresponsible and dangerous.

KORTH: Former Oklahoma state epidemiologist Aaron Wendelboe says the two-week experiment isn't enough time to determine if it's safe, especially with case counts and hospitalizations surging.

AARON WENDELBOE: Well, as far as just the general idea of in-school quarantine, it's not a policy that I would recommend particularly at this time.

KORTH: Studies have shown students do better with classroom learning. Mustang Superintendent Charles Bradley says many students exposed to the coronavirus don't test positive and lose out by quarantining at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHARLES BRADLEY: We are looking forward to collecting any data that would help us for our long-term goals of providing face-to-face instruction on an ongoing basis.

KORTH: Across the country, school districts have struggled as infections surge. Administrators hope this new program will limit that impact while still providing needed classroom instruction.

For NPR News, I'm Robby Korth in Mustang, Okla.

(SOUNDBITE OF ISRAEL NASH SONG, "RAIN PLANS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.