Because the state ordered some counties to keep health data secret citing privacy issues, parents in parts of the state don’t know if the outbreaks are related to their schools.
FLORIDA—Since Aug. 10, at least 1,210 students and teachers have been sent home to quarantine after they were exposed to the novel coronavirus, according to the Florida Education Association.
One month into the reopening of Florida’s schools (with the exception of schools in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, which have not opened due to high infection rates in those counties), COVID-19 infections among school-age children have jumped 34 percent.
In fact, according to the Florida Department of Health, 10,513 children under age 18 have tested positive since schools started reopening for in-person learning (although the state is not reporting how many were in school or doing remote learning).
For this reason, classrooms and entire schools have been temporarily closed. But because the state ordered some counties to keep health data secret, citing privacy issues, parents in parts of the state don’t know if the outbreaks are related to their schools, The Washington Post reports.
In an email last week, Alberto Moscoso, the spokesman for the Department of Health, said that “the Department is currently working to determine the best and most accurate manner in which to report information regarding cases of COVID-19 associated with schools and daycares,” adding that the information will become available in the coming days or weeks.
A Difficult Choice
This lack of reliable school-specific information has teachers and parents scrambling to find a solution that allows them to stay informed. Anonymous Twitter accounts from teachers afraid of being fired, as well as volunteer-run coronavirus dashboards, have sprung up in some counties. Some were ordered to shut down by the DeSantis administration, as happened in Duval and Orange counties. In the case of Duval county, the district said it would try again with a new dashboard. In Orlando, the Orange County health department was told to stop releasing information about coronavirus cases tied to local schools.So the school district began listing schools with positive cases on its Facebook page within days, The Washington Post reports. Other school districts created their own dashboards the state has not shut down. Hillsborough County, for example, lists daily cases and names the schools with cases of COVID-19.
A Difficult Choice
For Sylvia K., [a pseudonym], an elementary school teacher in Miami-Dade County, the idea of returning to school for in-person teaching is filled with tension.
“Even though I am beyond frustrated with the online teaching we’re doing now, which has been a glitch-ridden disaster, I think that going back to school before all the criteria has been met would be an irresponsible and unforgivable mistake,” she told The Americano.
For the safe reopening of schools, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization recommend a local positivity rate below 5 percent. But the overall child positivity rate in the state is 14.5 percent, and many of the state’s 67 county school districts opened with higher positivity rates.
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This worries Sylvia, because although “the district and the union signed a letter of understanding that specifies that all criteria has to be met” before reopening, she has doubts. “Of course, if the state is hiding the true numbers…”
“I would either do it or lose my job, and I need it more than anything else for health insurance,” she said.
Parents also face a troubling dilemma, said Giselle Salas, the mother of 11-year-old Cassie, an honor student currently taking online classes.
“How can I decide whether to send my daughter to school, if I can’t trust the information I’m given?,” she told The Americano.
“You want the best for your child, but you don’t want to put her in harm’s way. I think they should keep students in online classes until it’s safe to return to school. Otherwise, until I can trust the information I’m given one hundred percent, it’s a risk I’m not willing to take with my child,” Salas said.
But parents’ and teachers’ worries go beyond a lack of information. The Florida Department of Education leaves mask mandates up to school districts, and many counties across the state have left the decision up to students.