Parents left confused as Summit School District grapples with quarantine communication

Students wear their masks as they return to Silverthorne Elementary for the first day of school Aug. 27.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

FRISCO — Just three weeks into the new school year, the Summit School District has had to put its novel coronavirus response plan into action. 

The district had to respond to a number of questions and concerns regarding student cohorts being placed in quarantine as a result of a student showing symptoms of the virus. 

Despite the concern surrounding the issue, the school district is not confirming or denying whether any cohorts have been placed in quarantine, district spokesperson Mikki Grebetz said. Instead, the district is following the Summit County Public Health Department’s guidance for reporting cases, she said. 

The health department does not publish any information about people who have been quarantined. It only reports when an outbreak has occurred. There have been no outbreaks within the district so far, public health spokesperson Nicole Valentine wrote in an email. 

“Public health will not be releasing information on cohorts in quarantine,” Valentine wrote. “That would be up to the school district to decide if they want to release that level of information.”

While the district would not confirm whether any cohorts are in quarantine, Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland spoke about the issue at a Summit County Board of Health meeting Thursday, Sept. 17. 

At the meeting, Assistant County Manager Sarah Vaine asked which entity is responsible for reporting cohorts in quarantine. 

“That’s a good question and something we’ve learned about in the past week as we have had cohorts quarantining … ,” Wineland said, adding that public health officials are working with the school district on the processes. “This is new for all of us. We’re all learning and continuing to tweak and change things as we go.”

At a school board meeting Thursday, a parent submitted for public comment her desire to have the district release information about cohorts that have been quarantined. 

“I have heard a lot of rumors in the past week about quarantine, teacher shortages and positive cases, but it would be great to hear this information from the school district itself,” Amy Noraka, a parent in the school district, wrote. “I am doing remote learning with my kids and was hoping to put them back in the school at some point but will definitely not do this if there is no communication to inform parents about the truth of what is happening in schools.”

Grebetz said the district has decided not to publicly report when cohorts are placed in quarantine or which schools might be affected. However, the district is continuing to have conversations with its legal team and the public health department about how it will handle communication surrounding the issue going forward. 

“We are having conversations about communicating quarantines to our community because our goal is always transparency,” Grebetz said. “But we need to balance that with respecting and protecting the scholars and the staff members who are affected by those quarantines because we’re also bound by HIPAA (privacy laws).”

While the district is not outright saying there are cohorts in quarantine, it did spend the week providing more information about the quarantine process within Summit’s schools. 

Grebetz sent out a sample letter to parents, which shows what parents will receive if their student needs to be placed in quarantine.

At Thursday’s school board meeting, Director of Operations Drew Adkins also spoke about the process for when a student or staff member shows symptoms of the virus.

When a person tests positive for the virus, they are put in isolation for at least 10 days, Adkins said. In that situation, the person’s close contacts — people who were within 6 feet of that person for 15 minutes or more — will be quarantined for 14 days. For the school district, everyone in a cohort is considered to be a close contact, Grebetz said. 

Grebetz added that it’s important that students who are in quarantine don’t attend outside activities. 

“It’s really important for these families to understand that they need to stay home to avoid community transmission,” she said. “We live in a pretty small community; people interact with each other a lot. So the virus could spread pretty quickly in a small community.”  

Parents shouldn’t hesitate to get their children tested for the virus if they’re showing any level of symptoms, Adkins said. 

“Getting tested is pivotal for our ability to keep our cohorts safe in schools … ,” he said.

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