School district spreadsheets reveal the realities of what schools are dealing with on a daily basis while trying to educate students in the classroom during a pandemic.
The reports, provided to us by four school districts through a public records request, are daily logs these districts submit to Florida’s Department of Education. The logs detail confirmed cases of COVID-19 on campus. According to the state, the daily logs are submitted to the state voluntarily.
“Everyday is a challenge,” explains Dylan Tedders, Assistant Superintendent of Okeechobee County Schools.
Tedders said the logs help ensure districts are taking a more strategic approach to outbreaks and not conducting widespread closings of schools. Prior to the start of school this year, Florida Education Commission Richard Corcoran said during a phone conference that he wanted districts to be more “surgical” in their approach to dealing with positive cases on campus and not “sweeping.”
The Okeechobee County school district is small, with a population of about 6,400 and just 10 schools. But the district’s daily logs show small isn’t immune to virus challenges.
The reports reveal how in several cases, staff members tested for the virus but didn’t share it with their schools until days later when their results were positive.
“That creates challenges,” said Tedders.
In another case, a student tested positive but the student’s doctor never told his parents to keep him home or even contact the school, according to the logs. The student’s case resulted in 30 others being quarantined from campus.
“If there’s any miscommunication, that can hamper what we’re trying to do,” said Tedders.
The district conducts temperature checks on students each morning, monitors campuses constantly and seating charts in classrooms and on buses have helped overall numbers stay low.
“We literally go through each class period and bus rosters. We just try to make sure we’re not overdoing it but not under-doing it either,” said Tedders. “We don’t want one kid responsible for sending home 100 students or staff, that’s what we’re trying to avoid."
But in larger districts, mass quarantines have become unavoidable.
During the first week of school in St. Lucie County, one student’s confirmed case of COVID-19 resulted in the quarantine of 100 football players and coaches from two schools.
“All of those players were quarantined for 14 days and many of the coaches as well,” said Superintendent Wayne Gent. “There were no other additional positives from either one of those.”
So far, the student-to-student transmission of the virus has not been an issue, said Gent.
In Pinellas County, one student case also impacted a school football team with 41 students forced into quarantine.
In Polk County, daily COVID-19 logs reveal one teacher’s case forced more than 120 to be quarantined.
District leaders say their biggest challenge is “just making sure that we’re getting it right,’ said Gent. In St. Lucie County, less than half the district’s population is back on campus. As of last week, the district has reported 35 positive student cases with 480 students quarantined since the start of school on August 24th.
That is, at least what the district knows about.
“Each one of us has to protect or children and our staff. so we have to be trustworthy, we have to be honest and just tell it like it is,” said Gent.