Iowa City Community School District now following Iowa Department of Public Health Quarantine Guidelines

After a quarantine surge in early April, ICCSD has changed their quarantine practices to line up with Iowa Department of Health recommendations to maintain balance between student health and success in education.


Ayrton Breckenridge

An Iowa City Community School District sign outside of the central office as seen on Thursday, April 15, 2021.

Grace Hamilton, News Reporter

The Iowa City Community School District Board recently voted to loosen its quarantine guidelines in an effort to reduce the number of students and staff impacted by positive cases while maintaining mitigation strategies.

In an email sent to district parents on April 14, ICCSD Superintendent Matt Degner announced the quarantine modifications following the board’s approval to follow the Iowa Department of Public Health Quarantine Guidelines a day prior.

“This shift in quarantine protocols allows us to minimize the number of individuals impacted by a positive COVID-19 case in a school and the amount of time spent away from the classroom,” Degner wrote. “This change does not minimize our commitment to health and safety. It is important to remind students to always wear face coverings consistently and correctly while at school.”

Instead of following recommendations from Johnson County Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the district will follow the Iowa Department of Public Health recommendations.

These guidelines say someone in close contact with a COVID-19 positive individual does not need to quarantine if both people wore masks during the encounter.

Previously, the district followed Johnson County Public Health and CDC guidance, which dictate that a close contact must quarantine for 14 days unless fully vaccinated. These guidelines define a close contact as someone within 6 feet of a COVID-19 positive individual for 15 minutes, regardless of whether people in the encounter were wearing a mask.

ICCSD’s adoption of the Iowa Department of Public Health’s quarantine recommendations means that a student or staff member in close contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive does not need to quarantine for a full two weeks if they are symptom-free.

During the school board’s April 13 meeting, the school board reviewed the differences between CDC, Johnson County Public Health, and Iowa Department of Public Health quarantine guidelines.

ICCSD School Board President Shawn Eyestone said the school board voted 5-1 on adopting Iowa Department of Public Health quarantine measures.

The CDC recommends a 14-day quarantine for close contacts, which local health officials can adjust. However, Johnson County has not yet recommended a shorter quarantine period like the Iowa Department of Public Health.

“Throughout this process, we have tried to maintain this balance between the health and safety of our students and staff with making sure that the students have the support to be successful in their education as well,” Eyestone said. “…We feel like we had a pretty good balance for a long time, and then as we really started to see the number of students in quarantine climb dramatically, it was becoming less balanced. We were starting to skew toward not being able to meet the needs of a larger number of students and what they needed to be successful.”

As of April 12, a day before the board voted on following the Iowa Department of Public Health Quarantine Guidelines, nearly 1,000 students in the district were in quarantine. Of the quarantining students, 52 had a confirmed positive COVID-19 test.

Eyestone said district families have been receptive to ICCSD’s shift to the Iowa Department of Public Health quarantine guidelines.

“We hadn’t heard a whole lot of feedback before or after the change, other than from the families who were asking us to make the change because they felt like we were being too restrictive,” he said. “There was quite a bit of communication coming in from families that have their students quarantined multiple times, and as you can imagine, that was very difficult on them. There were some thanks after we voted from some of those folks.”

There has been no vocal pushback from families opposed to the new quarantine guidelines, Eyestone added.

ICCSD parent Tee Orsha is one of many district parents who is pleased with the district taking up less restrictive quarantine guidelines. One of her children had to quarantine for fourteen days and returned to school Wednesday, she said.

“I think this change is good because they’re trying to slowly get things back to how they were,” Orsha said. “I’m hoping that next year things will be more normal, but for now, I think it’s fair they are wearing masks and being cautious. I’m just glad that my kids get to be in school.”