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Local school leaders face contradicting directives amid reopening schools

Published: Aug. 10, 2020 at 8:43 PM CDT
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PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG) -

All eyes are on Florida’s classrooms as they prepare to reopen.

“The fact is, in terms of risks to school kids, this is a lower risk than seasonal influenza. In terms of their ability to spread it, they are less likely to spread it than they are for that,” said Governor Ron DeSantis during a press conference Monday.

According to an emergency order issued by Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, schools must open “barring a state or local health directive to the contrary”. But local health department officials say they don’t have the authority to make that decision.

“The role of the Florida Department of Health in Bay County is to provide and explain guidance that’s created by the CDC,” Sandon Speedling with the Bay County Health Department said during a Bay District Schools board meeting on July 14. “It’s really not the department’s position to dictate policy and processes to the school district.”

Bay District Schools Board Chairman Steve Moss said while the district has received encouragement to reopen schools by the local health department, their advice has been more guarded than usual. “You could argue whether it’s coming from Tallahassee, or wherever it’s coming from, they have not been as forthcoming with some of those different advice, recommendations as they have with other outbreaks of, like I said, measles, bed bugs, lice, whatever it might be,” he said.

Moss said districts are facing another layer of complexity- Florida statute states district leaders have control of school operations, while Corcoran’s emergency order declares all state schools must reopen.

“The question comes down to this: who ultimately has the responsibility and the final say on what the 67 school districts can do in regards to opening or not opening?” said Moss.

When the Hillsborough County School District defied Corcoran’s emergency order by choosing to remain closed, they received a letter from the commissioner reading in part “this blanket, district-wide decision directly contradicts the district’s reopening plan, which was approved because it was consistent with the purpose and framework of Emergency Order 2020 EO-06.”

Moss said, “ultimately that is the power Tallahassee has over local school districts; they control the purse strings and the money that each of those districts get to pay for everything from teacher’s salaries to the light bill.”

Regardless, Moss said the majority of Bay County parents have expressed the desire for schools to reopen. Now it’s just a matter of doing so as safely as possible.

The Florida Department of Health in Bay, Gulf, and Walton Counties sent us the following statement:

“The Florida Department of Health county health departments provide accurate information to school districts so leadership can make the best decisions for their students and employees. Governor Ron DeSantis believes parents should be empowered to have a choice between in-person and distance learning. The Florida Department of Education’s emergency order can be read here: http://www.fldoe.org/core/fileparse.php/19861/urlt/DOE-2020-EO-06.pdf. More information on the Florida Department of Education’s COVID-19 response can be found at http://fldoe.org/em-response/index.stml.

Each local county health department has dedicated a main point of contact for each school district. Any COVID-19 cases arising in schools will be provided contact tracing and education, just as we do for any and all infectious diseases in the school setting. Each county health department’s school health staff and epidemiology departments will work closely together throughout the school year. All county health departments work in partnership with their school districts to provide education to parents and students on COVID-19 on prevention, symptoms, and exposure. Each county health department recommends that parents, guardians, or caregivers discuss any concerns with their health care provider. The CDC has created a school decision-making tool for partners, caregivers, and guardians that can be found here: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/decision-tool.html. The CDC also offers back to school planning checklists to guide parents, guardians, and caregivers, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/parent-checklist.html. Symptoms of COVID-19 include; fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea. More information on keeping children healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak can be found here, https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/children.html.

The Florida Department of Health provides a weekly report on cases in pediatric Florida residents. That information can be found at http://ww11.doh.state.fl.us/comm/_partners/covid19_report_archive/pediatric_report_latest.pdf. A breakdown of cases by age range is also available in the daily County report at http://ww11.doh.state.fl.us/comm/_partners/covid19_report_archive/county_reports_latest.pdf.

COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly through close contact from person-to-person.

  • Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
  • Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks.
  • These droplets can land in mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled in the lungs.
  • COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.

For more information on how the virus spreads, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html.”

Copyright 2020 WJHG. All rights reserved.

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