BARTOW, Fla. — With no cars in the parking lot and no one on campus at Spessard Holland Elementary, it’s hard to tell that the first day of school is just days away.
“I wish we could have sincerely focused on just bringing students and staff back and welcoming our families back on the first day,” said Frederick Heid, Polk County Public Schools Superintendent.
Instead, Polk County Public Schools is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak at Holland Elementary school, where eight staff members tested positive.
The school is shut down.
“In collaboration and conjunction with the Department of Health here locally, they felt the need given the number of cases there for us to go in there and do a deep cleaning of the campus,” Heid said.
Heid said Holland Elementary will be open on Tuesday and the staff who are absent will be covered.
Meanwhile, the school’s in-person orientation scheduled for Friday is now virtual. There will also be a drive-thru orientation on Monday.
District officials have given schools the option of having virtual orientations to reduce the number of visitors on campus.
Other Polk schools have also reported positive cases. Still, masks are optional.
“We don’t have the authority right now to mandate mask. As you know the executive order initiated by the governor precludes our ability to do so. And a district that would find themselves in violation of that executive order the governor and others have made it very clear that they would withhold funding,” Heid said.
About 105,000 students are returning to Polk County Schools this year. ABC Action News asked the superintendent what will happen if a student needs to be quarantined.
“If we find ourselves in a position and working in collaboration with the Department of Health even with the Department of Education, that we made a decision to close the school. Essentially right now under the current limitations, we would have to extend the school year for that community to make up those days,” said Heid.
Heid said he is open to the State Board of Education, once again offering a remote learning option this year.