School exposure policies keep healthy children away from in-person learning

Students are continuing to find themselves locked out of in-person learning due to
school policies
across the country that force unvaccinated children to stay home for days if they are exposed to a person with
— regardless of whether they test negative.

The learning disruptions are frequently unpredictable and subject to the discretion of school officials.

Washington, D.C.’s
public school system, for example, school staff determine whether a child is a close contact of a COVID-19-positive person at school, often providing little information about the circumstances surrounding an exposure before informing parents they’ll have to keep their COVID-19-negative student home for five days.


Although negative tests don’t free unvaccinated students from the requirement, students must test negative to return on day six and still have to wear a mask for the next five days of school.

Less than a third of children between the ages of 5 and 11 are vaccinated, according to the
American Academy of Pediatrics

That means two-thirds of the nation’s children are subject to rules, which vary by district, that could keep them out of the classroom for days at a time, even if they repeatedly test negative for the virus.

In some parts of the country, the child vaccination rate is even lower than the national rate of 28%.

Erin Roselle Poe, a Loudoun County, Virginia, activist who has organized protests with other parents against the district’s COVID-19 plans, said she has heard from “many families” that their children have been sent home under the exposure policies but that “the county was unable to articulate to the parent what was the close contact.”

Roselle Poe noted that not all schools in Loudoun County have enforced the exposure policies in recent weeks. By the time her own son’s school contacted her earlier this year to let her know he was the close contact of a positive individual, the five-day quarantine window had already passed, suggesting the school was overwhelmed with contact tracing.

The documented setbacks endured by children who were kept out of classrooms for extended stretches of time, often by teachers unions and school boards, have become a political point of contention that Republicans are eager to exploit on the campaign trail.

Democrats, meanwhile, have worked to downplay their role in perpetuating closures that many parents have come to resent.

Even the leaders of teachers unions who forcefully advocated to keep children out of the classroom, such as American Federation of Teachers head Randi Weingarten, have since
styled themselves
as supporters of in-person learning and have
the damage wrought by remote instruction.

But the exposure policies in place at some schools have continued to thrust healthy students back into remote learning scenarios — or scenarios in which no instruction appears to be available at all.

A number of major school districts — including in New York City, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and
Loudoun County
, the site of intense unrest regarding liberal school policies — have versions of rules that keep unvaccinated children out of the classroom for five days with no option to test back into in-person learning each time they encounter someone who is COVID-19 positive or is considered a close contact.

None of those four districts responded to requests for comment about what remote learning options are offered to students tethered to home for five days after each exposure nor did they answer questions about how many students have been subjected to the practice over the past month.

“The whole point of having different policies toward vaccinated kids and unvaccinated kids is to coerce people even more into vaccinating their kids,” Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, told the Washington Examiner.

“They’re going to be doing everything they can to coerce as many people to get their kids vaccinated against COVID,” Schilling added, despite the virus having “never been a threat” of serious proportions to children.

The efficacy of school closures has come under intense scrutiny as experts question whether the policies contributed meaningfully to mitigating the pandemic.

Data have not suggested schools that opened months earlier, as some in Republican-controlled states did in late 2020, experienced notably higher levels of infection than schools in Democratic-controlled states that remained closed until a year later.

And a growing body of evidence has led experts to believe students suffered more significantly from months of remote learning than initially feared, leading even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to change its guidelines about in-person instruction.

Keeping children in the classroom is presently a “
,” according to the CDC, which for months recommended closed schools and strict mask mandates.

The CDC does
that people who have close contact with an infected individual quarantine for five days and wear a mask for the next five days if they haven’t received a COVID-19 vaccine.

However, the CDC also continues to
mask mandates in schools, and nearly all districts in the country have moved to make masking optional — meaning districts that adhere to the exposure requirements that force unvaccinated children out of the classroom are selectively applying CDC guidance.

Proponents of policies that apply differently to vaccinated and unvaccinated children argue that the shots are necessary to stop the spread of the virus in the classroom. Unvaccinated students, the argument goes, could more easily transmit COVID-19 after exposure than their vaccinated peers.

But the CDC’s own data raise questions about that claim.

Every week for which data are available since Feb. 12, according to the CDC’s
data tracker
, COVID-19 infections have been higher among vaccinated children ages 5 to 11 than those who are unvaccinated.


Amid all the uncertainty surrounding school COVID-19 policies that have frequently changed and have led to situations in which children can be ejected without warning, the public school system has seen a mass exodus of families seeking more reliable education options.

Roughly 1.2 million children have left public schools since the beginning of the pandemic, with the most dramatic decline in enrollment occurring in districts that stuck with remote learning the longest, according to a recent