December 6, 2023

Keeping Media and Government Accountable.

Kansas schools continue to issue bogus quarantine orders

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The Blue Valley and Olathe school districts aren’t the only ones deliberately deceiving parents with bogus quarantine orders that are really little more than suggestions; parents in the Derby and Ottawa school districts have also been victims.

In Franklin County, Ottawa Middle School football players were given a quarantine “order” signed by Interim Director of the Franklin County Health Department and Denise Hiatt, who is the head nurse for the district.

The problem, according to a letter sent to Ottawa County on Oct. 12, by attorney Ryan Kriegshauser, is that the “order” failed to meet multiple statutory requirements.

Not only was the “order” not issued by Local Health Officer Dr. Willard B. Ransom or the Kansas Department of Health and environment (it said Ransom had issued the order, but he did not sign it), but it met none of the legal requirements for a quarantine order, including — among other things — the identity of the individuals ordered to quarantine, the specific premises where they will be quarantined and; most importantly; the requirement to provide a due process hearing within 72 hours. All of which is required to be included in the order.

One day later, the Franklin County Administrator Derek L. Brown sent Kriegshauser a return letter stating:

“Per your request, I am sending you this letter to confirm that the October 8th, 2020 letter sent to the parents of Ottawa Middle School football players was not meant to constitute a mandatory order, but was rather a strong recommendation. County staff is working in conjunction with local school officials on creating a revised letter that will make this clearer moving forward.”

In Sedgwick County, a demand letter from an attorney was apparently not enough, and Kriegshauser was forced to file a lawsuit on behalf of a Derby, Kansas freshman, who was one of what Kriegshauser said were hundreds — if not thousands — of Sedgwick County students who received similar “orders,” that simply did not meet the legal requirements.

In the case of the Derby student, an official quarantine order was eventually issued, and the student does remain in quarantine although he shows no symptoms — which Kriegshauser said was expected — but the judge in the case noted several flaws in Sedgwick County’s “Policy 1.722” which allows the county to issue the so-called “close contact letters” which, as part of his order maintaining the student’s quarantine order, forced the county to change the language in the letters to clarify they are not legal quarantine orders.

District Judge Jeffrey E. Goering found that the student’s quarantine order was — in fact — the first one Local Health Officer Dr. Garold Minns, who was named in the lawsuit, has issued in the entirety of the pandemic.

“… it is uncontroverted that the quarantine order at issue in this case is the only quarantine order that has been issued by Defendant Minns related to the COVID-19 outbreak,” Goering wrote in his decision. “It is clear that the Defendants’ have been relying upon “close contact letters which, at least at the time of the events in question here, contained language that seemed to suggest that a quarantine was being required, and not suggested. Leaving aside for the moment concerns about the mistaken impressions that a reader would likely reach as the result of the use of such language, Dr. Minns testified that up to this point, no one had challenged the directive/suggestion to quarantine. Hence, up to this point, no enforceable quarantine order had been required.”

Sedgwick County has since revised the “close contact letters” which originally read “Your child shall not (emphasis added) return to SCHOOL until 14 days have passed since your child’s last exposure to a person with COVID-19 starting from the date of last exposure.”

The letters now read, “Your child should not (emphasis added) return to school and school-related activities until 14 days have passed …” but also adds a new paragraph at the top stating that while the document is not an isolation or quarantine order, threatens that “failure to abide by the guidance contained within this document may result in the Sedgwick County Local Health Officer issuing an isolation or quarantine order, as permitted by Kansas law.”

Kriegshauser said in an email, that while he was thankful for the swift action of Franklin County in correcting the issue, he is troubled by the lack of attention to the law and transparency by the government.

“I appreciate the quick response by Franklin County in correcting this issue when it was brought to their attention,” Kriegshauser said. “By contrast, a high school freshman had to take Sedgwick County to court in order to get them to be more upfront with their citizens.  At a time when we should be able to rely on units of government to operate transparently and communicate clearly, it is disappointing that local governments are not more effectively explaining legal rights to parents and more carefully affording due process to students.” 

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