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Florida schools deal with test results — the COVID-19 kind

A roundup of Florida education news from around the state.
Maria Smith gets a hug from former student Marquis Golden, 9, at the "Walker's Gate" after school at Campbell Park Elementary School, Monday August 24, 2020.
Maria Smith gets a hug from former student Marquis Golden, 9, at the "Walker's Gate" after school at Campbell Park Elementary School, Monday August 24, 2020. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
Published Aug. 27, 2020

As each successive wave of schools open in Florida, their leaders turn their attention to the next big thing — the possibility that someone within the walls will receive a positive COVID-19 test result. They’re working on steps to follow when they learn of cases, as well as creating models for reporting the information publicly. Some districts are collaborating with their local health departments to establish coronavirus command centers, with a number taking the added step of establishing quick testing sites dedicated to school-related cases. Some are not being so cooperative, though. It’s almost enough to make you forget that there’s some learning going on, too. Read on for the latest.

Even the biggest supporters of in-person classes say cases are inevitable. A new poll shows a majority of parents worry about virus spread, and support a judge’s ruling against the state’s reopening mandate, Florida Politics reports.

As cases arise, schools need clear procedures. The state is working with districts about how to report instances, WJXT reports.

A common rule of thumb for determining quarantines is the six-foot, 15-minute exposure rule. A Lake County high school sent home 17 students because of their close contact with two others who had tested positive, the Daily Commercial reports. • More than 200 central Florida students have been quarantined as a result of positive cases in several schools, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Schools can’t stress it enough: If you think you’re sick, stay home. A Manatee County principal was placed on administrative leave after coming to school while waiting for his test results, which came back positive, the Bradenton Herald reports. More than a dozen Manatee schools have reported positive cases since reopening, the Herald reports. • Two Polk County students attended classes while waiting for their test results, prompting a contact tracing activity for the district, the Ledger reports. “Parents need to be very honest and tell us that they know they have a case in their home,” superintendent Jacqueline Byrd said.

Donovan Steen, 8, and Shaya Steen, 6, get their temperature checked by Hillel Academy Head of School Allison Oakes as they arrive for the first day of the school year in Tampa on Wednesday, August 12, 2020.
Donovan Steen, 8, and Shaya Steen, 6, get their temperature checked by Hillel Academy Head of School Allison Oakes as they arrive for the first day of the school year in Tampa on Wednesday, August 12, 2020. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Parents really want to know about these cases. So much so that the Palm Beach County school district reversed course to commit to reporting them all, after saying it wouldn’t, the Palm Beach Post reports. • The Duval County school district, by contrast, announced it would stop publishing data at the behest of the local health department, which hadn’t approved their release, the Florida Times-Union reports.

Buses are a point of special concern. Unlike in school buildings, there’s no way to enforce social distancing short of capping ridership. That has Palm Beach County bus drivers and others worried, the Palm Beach Post reports.

Masks remain a primary method for keeping the spread down. The Okaloosa County School Board rejected their superintendent’s recommendation to mandate masks, instead making them “highly recommended,” the Northwest Florida Daily News reports.

With all the uncertainty, perhaps it’s little surprise some teacher unions can’t reach deals on working conditions. The Volusia union declared impasse in its talks, claiming the administration was unwilling to follow CDC guidelines, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reports. • The Leon County school district has deemed its teachers “essential workers,” limiting their need to quarantine if exposed to COVID-19, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. Board members were not enthusiastic about the change.

Through it all, schools continue to open their doors. The Volusia district has not veered from its plan to resume classes, including face-to-face, on Monday, the News-Journal reports. • Orange County schools also plan to stay the course while awaiting the outcome of the ongoing lawsuit, WMFE reports.

There’s been a lot of attention paid to restarting high school football in the pandemic. Smaller sports face bigger challenges. Leon County’s cross country and swim teams, for instance, are at the mercy of government reopening parks and pools, the Tallahassee Democrat reports. • Referees have reached a pay agreement with Collier County schools, but not with Lee County, the Naples Daily News reports.

For some schools, the bigger question is, where is everyone? Marion County schools reported about 6,000 fewer enrolled students than projected, the Ocala Star-Banner reports. • The number was closer to 14,000 in Brevard County, which district officials said could translate into a $100 million funding shortfall, Florida Today reports.

A Leon County middle school wants to continue band this year. Because sharing instruments is out of the question, the school has turned to its community for support, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.

School district leaders continue to eye their budgets for possible cuts. July’s General Collection Report offered some positive news for the first time in months, Florida Politics reports.

A Sarasota County School Board member is cleared of election law complaints against him. Eric Robinson contends the unfounded attack against him cost him his reelection, the Herald-Tribune reports.

Did you miss a story? Here’s the link for yesterday’s roundup.

Before you go ... I usually like to share something light here. But going with today’s theme, I pick a Washington Post opinion column by Brown University economics professor Emily Oster instead. In it, Oster suggests that the media reporting of COVID-19 cases doesn’t provide enough context for the public to make informed decisions about things like returning to school. A snippet: “Districts in many areas are still grappling with whether to reopen, or when and how, with plenty of accompanying media coverage. Nearly all of it focuses on examples of COVID-19 infections. But the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus means the same attention should be given to schools where there are no cases.” Something to think about.

Too much? Okay. Wednesday also was National Dog Day, and Florida is in the Top 5 for dog-loving states, according to some random survey. So here’s a dog video. Have a great day.


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