Ray Carter | December 7, 2021
Court finds Edmond school quarantine policy ‘irrational’
Oklahoma County District Court Judge Don Andrews has enjoined Edmond Public Schools from enforcing its COVID-19 quarantine policy, which requires unvaccinated students to be quarantined after potential exposure even when students do not test positive for the virus.
Andrews’ order said the district’s policy likely violates the equal-protection rights guaranteed to students by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
“The District quarantined unvaccinated-yet-healthy children based on concern that some of those students could become asymptomatic transmitters of COVID-19,” Andrews’ order stated. “But evidence before the Court shows that in practice, the policy of removing unvaccinated-yet-healthy children from the classroom provided no benefit in slowing the spread of COVID-19. The policy did, however, inflict tremendous harm on some of those students, pushing some to the brink of suicide, while causing others to fall significantly behind in their studies. The District’s policy is irrational and fails to balance any of the known dangers associated with quarantining children against the fear of asymptomatic spread among unvaccinated students.”
The order was a victory for several Edmond parents who filed the lawsuit on Sept. 14. Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor also sided with the parents in an amicus curiae brief filed in the case.
Beginning Aug. 18, 2021, Edmond schools began enforcing a COVID-19 vaccination policy that required quarantining of unvaccinated students after potential exposure for seven to 10 days. Vaccinated students who did not test positive were not subject to quarantine.
“The policy inflicted tremendous harm on some of those students, pushing some to the brink of suicide, while causing others to fall significantly behind in their studies.” —Judge Don Andrews
The impacts of that policy were devastating for some students, according to parental testimony that Andrews noted in his order.
The order noted that Brenna Harris reported her child—who has autism and suffers from severe behavioral problems including anxiety, self-harm, and regression—became “extremely violent” and that “at no time” during the 10-day quarantine “did any official from the District provide aid or assistance regarding her child’s behavioral issues.”
One of Joy Tisdale’s three children, who has special needs, was quarantined twice and “received a mere 160 minutes of instruction, compared to 1,200 minutes of in-person instruction normally received.”
Theresa Epperly reported that she was “forced to teach school subjects to her child using YouTube videos” during the child’s quarantine.
Lindsay Frace testified that the quarantine “grossly exacerbated her child’s underlying anxiety, which has led to suicidal tendencies.”
Similarly, Emelie Garrelts’ child, who has been diagnosed with an adjustment disorder, “began talking about death much more frequently while quarantined.”
“None of the Plaintiffs’ students who were quarantined pursuant to the District’s policy displayed symptoms associated with COVID-19 while isolated at home, nor did they test positive for COVID-19 while quarantined pursuant to the District’s policy,” Andrews’ order noted.
In addition, the number of COVID-19 positive cases within the Edmond district “followed a similar trend and pattern as those districts without a close-contact policy solely for unvaccinated children.”
Andrews also noted that testimony showed “fully vaccinated students are capable of transmitting COVID-19 too.”
As a result, he concluded that the plaintiffs “have established that unvaccinated children are prima facie identical in all relevant respects to those students who are fully vaccinated.” Therefore, a quarantine policy that treats unvaccinated students differently than vaccinated students would likely run afoul of the equal-protection rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Andrews’ order stated that “there is no reasonably conceivable state of facts that can justify the differential treatment between vaccinated and unvaccinated students at issue here.”
The judge found that “the District’s policy has a disproportionate impact on students with special needs. Specifically, the evidence shows the District’s one-size-fits-all policy of removing unvaccinated students from the classroom grossly burdens students with special needs, imposing uniquely harsh consequences upon them.” Without an injunction, Andrews’ order stated that the Edmond school district’s quarantine policy “will continue to do irreparable harm to Plaintiffs’ children.”
A spokesperson defended Edmond’s COVID protocols following the judge’s order.
“Edmond Public Schools respects the court and the thoughtfulness of Judge Andrews’ decision,” said Susan Parks-Schlepp, director of communications for Edmond Public Schools. “However, we feel confident that our Covid safety procedures, developed in collaboration with trusted state health officials, were made in the best interest of students and staff.”
Parents involved with the lawsuit said Andrews’ order will benefit many families in Edmond, not just those directly involved in the lawsuit.
“I feel like it’s a victory for every child that goes to Edmond Public Schools,” Epperly said.
She said the impact of Edmond’s quarantine policy was severe.
“If you would have been in the courtroom, just listening to some of the stories, including mine, it’s just heartbreaking what it’s done to these children—what it’s done to them mentally, socially, everything,” Epperly said. “It affected them.”
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.