Rumors or reality?



According to the Sioux Falls School District, as of Oct. 22, all schools in the district are currently at Level 1, which states that the building is operating as normal.

When I sit in class after coming from a one-way hallway, mask on, in a socially distanced desk, pandemic at large, my top concern is naturally my health. Nothing about the way school is right now is normal and even with a few regulations in place, my mind still scatters to whether or not I’m going to be safe from this rapidly spreading nightmare that we’re being engulfed in. I think of how easy it would be for any surface around me to be the exposed surface that would put anyone who dared touch it and their families at risk and who around me could be unknowingly spreading this virus.

Online school is always an option, but how would I know if it’s no longer a healthy or comfortable option for me to stay here? Sure, when a student or staff member has shown symptoms or comes in close contact they are sent home and students traced back to the affected are also sent home, of course without disclosure. Does that protect the other student that came up and had a conversation about what they did over the weekend or what they had for lunch? Does this protect the students in the bathroom who had an encounter with the student with symptoms? Does this protect those they met up with in the parking lot after school or those who are in classes without strict seating placements?

Many parents and students have expressed these same worries and there lies the question in controversy: should schools release specific case numbers or names of those positive with COVID-19? On one side of the argument, is it breaching confidentiality with everyone’s entitled “FERPA” or “HIPPA” rights and there shouldn’t be exceptions, or, on the other hand, when others’ lives are at stake, is this a time where information like this shouldn’t be withheld?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “FERPA was enacted by Congress to protect the privacy of students and their parents. The act is designed to ensure that students and parents of students may obtain access to their student’s educational records and challenge the content or release of such records to third parties.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also states that, “Even though a school employs school nurses, physicians, psychologists, or other health care providers, the school is not generally a HIPAA covered entity because the providers do not engage in any of the covered transactions, such as billing a health plan electronically for their services.”
Schools, including LHS, have shot down any question regarding the release of names or numbers of students and staff with COVID-19 under privacy policies such as HIPAA or FERPA which supposedly restrict them from what they can or cannot say to parents, the public, or journalists alike. Leaving many not to second guess the decisions of not releasing COVID-19 information without knowing what either policy means.

On the Department of Education’s website, it states that, “Although educational agencies and institutions can often address threats to the health or safety of students or other individuals in a manner that does not identify a particular student, FERPA permits educational agencies and institutions to disclose, without prior written consent, PII from student education records to appropriate parties in connection with an emergency, if knowledge of that information is necessary to protect the health or safety of a student or other individuals.”

“Why should information that is necessary to protect the health or safety of students and others be kept from us?”

— Veronica Iseminger

Obviously public health officials should be made aware of who in those that they are treating has come in contact with COVID-19 or who is confirmed positive with COVID-19. But why should information that is necessary to protect the health or safety of students and others be kept from us? It’s easy for long health policies to be misinterpreted which could lead to contradicting information and overall confusion as to what they really are and what exactly they are protecting, especially during a time when a lot is already unknown.
According to the Sioux Falls School District policy website,

“Appropriate information may be provided to school employees or the public if the potential for communicability is a factor. School administrators may determine that it is necessary to disclose personally identifiable information (PII) to appropriate parties (e.g. state health officials) in order to address a health or safety emergency. PII of a student who may have a communicable disease will not be disclosed to the public.”

Although there are current guidelines in place in efforts to protect the district as much as possible, the release of COVID-19 numbers is the final responsibility needed from our schools. Keeping people’s minds at ease and letting people decide for themselves when being at school in person is the right option for them and their health. As of now, we are left unsure of what to trust without an actual number to put to rest the rumors and anxiety. With situations like allergies or other independent health issues that are non communicable there’s not a reason to expose that individual because it doesn’t directly affect anyone else’s health. But COVID-19 is different, it is an illness caused by a virus that rapidly spreads from person to person and has affected the lives of millions.

“How are we supposed to know if these policies and regulations in place are valid without an actual number?”

— Veronica Iseminger

When people’s lives are at potential risk, it is crucial to be transparent and to provide as much information as possible to keep us safe. If students and staff can at least put a solid number to all the rumors and speculations, we can learn in a school without fear. We need numbers and we need them now, before it’s too late.