2 Utah schools face pushback after emails stating kids with COVID-19 ‘allowed to return’ to class

The emails were sent to parents in Davis School District. Health officials quickly countered the message and said those with COVID need to isolate.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Layton High School pictured on Sept. 18, 2021. An email from the principal there and at Woods Cross High in Davis School District told parents on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2022, they could send their kids to school even if they tested positive this week. The district later sent out a statement reversing course.

Parents are furious after two Utah high schools sent out a message Thursday evening stating that students who tested positive for the coronavirus this week could still come to class.

Davis School District reversed course shortly after 9 p.m., about two hours after the school emails were sent, sowing confusion and outrage in the interim.

The district said in its updated statement that with “further consultation with state leaders and health department officials,” it ultimately decided that students who tested positive should not attend school Friday.

Screenshots of the initial, nearly identical emails from Layton High and Woods Cross High were originally shared across social media, with many decrying them as irresponsible and noting that they contradicted medical guidelines.

“The answer is no,” Jenny Johnson, a spokesperson with the Utah Department of Health, said late Thursday, pointing to state guidance for schools. “If you test positive, the guidance is that you stay at home for at least five days.”

(Screenshot) An email sent to parents at Woods Cross High on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2022.

The emails from the two Davis School District schools came hours after state leaders earlier in the day suspended the Test to Stay program, citing a shortage of testing supplies. Under that program, schools were supposed to test all students with parent permission once campuses hit the state-designated outbreak threshold. That is set at 2% of a student body in a school with about 1,500 kids, or, for those with fewer students, 30 confirmed cases of the virus.

Those who tested negative through the Test to Stay program could continue attending class in person. Those who tested positive or refused to test were instructed to stay home for five days; when they returned, they were required to wear a mask for the following five days, under updated isolation guidelines.

But in their initial message to parents, principals at Layton High and Woods Cross High said Thursday evening that because the state has dropped the program, participation and results from the Test to Stay events at the two schools this week could no longer be upheld.

The email stated: “Students who tested positive or declined testing will be allowed to return to school and to participate in activities as of tomorrow, Friday, January 14.”

The phrase “will be allowed to return” was in bolded type, just like it was in an earlier email first sent to faculty and staff.

(Screenshot) An email sent to staff at Layton High before the same information was sent to parents on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2022.

After that, the emails encouraged those exhibiting symptoms to stay home.

But Johnson with the Utah Department of Health said isolating after testing positive is not optional. The state is following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which states that a positive test means a student should not attend school again for at least five days.

“It very clearly says anyone who tests positive needs to stay at home,” Johnson added.

The spokesperson for Davis School District did not answer a call from The Salt Lake Tribune late Thursday. In the updated statement sent out after 9 p.m., Davis Superintendent Reid Newey instead said: “Students who tested positive or declined to test during the Test to Stay event must remain in isolation for a minimum of five days.” Such students should not return to school until Wednesday, he added.

Newey followed up with another statement on Friday morning, calling the letters from Woods Cross High and Layton High “a mistake.”

He said: “District leaders sincerely apologize as we navigate the rapidly changing landscape caused by the omicron variant.”

Davis County Health Department also noted that those who have COVID-19 are supposed to isolate.

“From a public health standpoint, our guidance is — and what we will always stick to — is that if you’re sick and symptomatic you should stay home,” spokesperson Trevor Warner said late Thursday.

After the initial emails were sent out, parents and educators stormed onto social media. One parent wrote, “I’m speechless,” and called the guidance “outrageous.”

Another parent also noted her son’s school, Woods Cross High, saw more than 180 students test positive for COVID-19 during a recent Test to Stay event there. And another noted that more than 200 kids tested positive at the Layton High event this week.

“I cannot wrap my head around this,” another parent said.

Six high schools in Davis School District hit the outbreak threshold this week: Woods Cross, Layton, Viewmont, Bountiful, Davis and Clearfield. Additionally, seven elementary and middle schools have also had outbreaks, according to the district’s dashboard.

It’s unclear if the same, initial guidance Thursday evening was sent to parents at those schools.

Overall, the state has seen a spike in school cases this week, which prompted state leaders to allow school districts to move online for a week, if needed, to address outbreaks.

Nicholas Rupp, the spokesperson for Salt Lake County Health Department, said anyone with COVID-19 is considered contagious for two days before symptoms start and at least five days after. As long as someone has symptoms, though, such as a fever, they should continue isolating. The best guidance is to stay home for 10 days, he said.

But the CDC recently updated its guidance, advising that only five days at minimum are recommended for isolation.

Speaking generally about the guidelines, because Davis is not his jurisdiction, Rupp added: “Allowing kids who have tested positive to be in in-person learning within five days of that positive test is against state guidelines and the CDC’s recommendation.”