(CNN)Louisiana public schools are allowed to let parents choose whether they want to quarantine children after exposure to Covid-19, state education officials said.
School officials will notify parents if their children had been in close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, and from there it will be up to the parents to decide how they want to proceed, the Louisiana Department of Education said Wednesday in a news release.
However, the education department still advises students who test positive for Covid-19 to isolate during recovery until they are no longer infectious.
The policy change comes as thousands of students across the nation have had to quarantine after exposure to Covid-19 in schools.
"We can no longer ignore the unintended academic consequences of our students unnecessarily missing school," Louisiana State Superintendent of Education Cade Brumley said. "This new, common-sense option empowers parents and local communities with the authority to make health-related decisions for their students."
While many Louisiana parents have expressed frustration over their children missing school due previous quarantine requirements, which they say hinders the learning process, health experts stress that quarantines are effective.
It has created a struggle for many communities to toe the line between keeping schools open and keeping those who are potentially infectious at home-- especially as children younger than 12 are still not yet eligible for Covid-19 vaccination.
The Louisiana education department's decision was met with some backlash from other state and local officials.
In an email to CNN, Louisiana's Health Department said that it wasn't consulted on the education department's decision, adding that its own policy remains the same.
"We strongly recommend that school districts follow public health guidance and parents quarantine unvaccinated children who may have been in close contact to someone with COVID. Doing so is critical to slowing the spread and protecting children, families, school staff, and communities at large," said Mindy Faciane, a spokesperson for the health department.
And New Orleans Public Schools, the second largest in the state, will not be changing its quarantine measures, according to Superintendent Henderson Lewis, Jr, who blasted the change as something that will immediately increase the risk of Covid-19 transmission in schools.
"The Louisiana Department of Education's decision flies in the face of the data, the science, and the sound advice of our health and medical advisors when it comes to protecting our students and educators amid the latest surge in this pandemic," Lewis said in a statement. "We have proven that our approach is effective at keeping COVID-19 out of our schools, and we will stay the course and continue to listen to health experts."
Parents who exercise the parental choice option will have access to free Covid-19 screening, though it was not clear if that includes testing. When asked for clarification, the state's education department referred CNN to the state's health department, which said it did not recommend disregarding its established quarantine guidelines.
A similar policy was announced last week in Florida by Gov. Ron DeSantis, which he described as a "sympton-based approach" to quarantining students.
"If somebody is symptomatic, of course they stay home. If there's a close contact, but somebody has not developed any symptoms -- you monitor them, you notify the parent," DeSantis said. "The parent always has the right to have their kids stay home, if they think that's in the best interest of the student and the family 100 percent, we would not want to intrude on that. But if a parent has a healthy child, that child has a right to be in school."
Why quarantining is important
The Delta coronavirus variant has made Covid-19 cases in children more common than during the onset of the pandemic.
For the week ending September 23, children accounted for nearly 27% of all cases reported nationwide, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reported.
Recent research has found that regular Covid-19 testing of all students and staff in schools can catch positive coronavirus cases that symptom-based testing may miss.
As many as nine in 10 cases among students and seven in 10 cases among staff may be missed by conventional reporting mechanisms, according to research published September 22 in the journal JAMA Network Open.
Another AAP report shows that long-term Covid-19 complications can be significant for children -- even for some who initially had mild or no symptoms. All pediatric patients who tested positive should have at least one follow-up exam with a pediatrician, the AAP advised.