Kansas Justice Institute litigation director Sam MacRoberts this morning sent a letter to Timber Creek Elementary School in USD 229 Blue Valley, questioning the legality of a reported COVID quarantine of more than 100 students.   Parents received an email yesterday from Leasi Fry on behalf of Principal Pam Bakke, saying, “Your child must quarantine for 14 days through September 29, returning to schools on Oct. 5.  Individuals in quarantine should stay home for the duration of the 14 days regardless of test results.”

Kansas Justice Institute is a non-profit public interest litigation center that defends constitutional rights and, like The Sentinel, is owned by Kansas Policy Institute.

“A purported mass quarantine order issued by a school raises serious issues that require immediate attention,” said Sam MacRoberts.  “We hope, and insist, the school responds quickly and appropriately. There is no pandemic exception to our constitutional rights.”

Initial reports estimated as many as 200 students may be under quarantine order by the school, but later information indicates it might be closer to 100.  His letter sent this morning requested an immediate written response but the district had not responded to MacRoberts’ letter by 5:00 pm.

“Kansas Justice Institute has serious concerns with this purported quarantine Order. Given the nature of an Order purporting to quarantine students en masse, we request an immediate response, in writing.

“In Kansas, the quarantine process is outlined in KSA §§ 65-129b, 129c.  The statute empowers a local health officer to issue quarantine orders under certain, limited, circumstances. The statue does not expressly or implicitly authorize school districts or school employees to issue such an Order.

“Moreover, a local health officer’s power to issue a quarantine order is not limitless. For example, KSA § 65-129b does not allow a local health officer to issue an isolation or quarantine order unless it is “medically necessary” and “reasonable to prevent or reduce the spread of the disease or outbreak.” This “129b Order” must be specific and must inform the public of their ability to contest the order. KSA 65-129c sets forth a procedure for challenging the order.”

Rep. Sean Tarwater (R-Stillwell), whose district includes Timber Creek Elementary, says it’s almost as though the district want to punish kids because they got to go back to school.

“I guess you can understand the overabundance of caution but this is sort of taking the law into your own hands. I certainly don’t get why these children have to stay locked away in their room even if they test negative.  ”

MacRoberts’ letter acknowledged that COVID-19 is serious, and offered to meet with district officials in the evening or over the weekend given the urgency of the situation.

“There is no doubt COVID-19 is serious and cause for public concern. Your commitment to the safety of the Timber Creek students is laudable and there is no doubt your intentions were noble. However, it is unclear under what legal authority anyone besides a local health officer or the secretary can issue a quarantine order.”

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