However, the state did not provide this key information.
People were breaking the rules on campus.
Florida began reopening schools on August 1
This week, nine out of twelve school districts that opened their doors were in districts with a positivity rate above 5%. This is the highest threshold recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for schools to offer personal learning. CNN confirmed the list of districts scheduled to open as provided by an attorney for the Florida Education Association and confirmed the positivity rates with the Florida Department of Health.
A month later, 53,717 children in Florida tested positive for Covid-19, with a positivity rate of 14.3%, according to statewide data.
In Martin County, the positivity rate among children tested is 20.5% according to the latest state data.
Reese Richardson started 11th grade in person at a Martin County public school on August 11th. But after about a week and a half, she decided to switch to virtual learning.
“Children took off their masks,” Reese said. “They touched. They were near the halls. The people broke the rules.”
The Martin County School District is one of the counties that publishes its own Covid-19 data through the news media. An entire classroom was quarantined the day after it reopened. A month later, 23 positive or suspected positive cases were reported and 510 students were quarantined. The district has 16,500 K-12 students.
Lindsey Tarpley values the transparency of the district, she said. She works for the Martin County School District and her children, ages 10 and 5, attend Jensen Beach Elementary School in the county.
“I use this information to make a decision about going to school,” said Tarpley.
But Jill Richardson, Reese’s mother and former teacher, wants more district and state transparency.
“I don’t feel like I’m getting actual or exact numbers,” said Richardson.
District level data vary in detail
Depending on how data is collected and viewed, this step-by-step approach can make it difficult to keep track of new cases and may fail to identify the schools, classes, or classrooms that infected students have been to.
Florida’s largest teachers’ union in a new television commercial urges the state to release full data.
“While the virus is spreading, the front runners are not giving us the information we need,” says the narrator in the ad. “Instead, Governor DeSanti’s policy is playing with the health of our children.”
“If we deny what’s going on in schools … if we deny this information, the spread will only grow much faster,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association.
DeSantis had this to say during a September 11 press conference about why his government hasn’t released school-specific Covid-19 data.
“It’s not like reporting a test to the state that the state absolutely knows which school it’s from. It doesn’t work that way,” he replied to a question from CNN.
DeSantis has asked its Education Commissioner and General Surgeon to provide the information, he said. However, no date has been given for the publication of the data.
The mental health of the students is also a factor
The state does not require Martin County’s public schools to report the number of students and staff who have quarantined or tested positive, Superintendent Laurie Gaylord told CNN.
Students quarantined in Martin County are staying at home. In some cases, a teacher – who is considered an essential worker – with the same exposure to coronavirus is required to report to work for in-person lessons the next day.
Despite all of these challenges, many parents and teachers in Florida feel comfortable with the stationary school. In Martin County’s public schools, 64% of students attend in-person classes and 36% study remotely.
At Jensen Beach Elementary School in Martin County, the halls are marked to allow social distancing. The dining room is disinfected after each use. But desks in some classrooms are not 6 feet apart. Parents have been warned that social distancing is not always possible, Gaylord said. Therefore, masks must be worn in schools.
Tarpley, the mother and employee of Martin School, trusts the district to do whatever it takes to keep their children safe, she said. And she believes there is no substitute for being in a classroom for the purposes of her children’s mental health and wellbeing.
“With everything in life,” she said, “there is a risk.”