South Florida Sun Sentinel | By Austen Erblat | August 12, 2021
School started Tuesday in Palm Beach County and already 440 students have been instructed to quarantine after contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
Most of the 440 have not tested positive for COVID. There have been 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the school system as of 10 a.m. Thursday; 37 of them are students and 14 are employees, according to the school district.
All students and staff must wear masks in Palm Beach County public schools, but students can opt out if given permission by their parents.
School District Superintendent Michael Burke said on MSNBC on Thursday afternoon that in addition to the 440 in quarantine, 5,700 of the district’s estimated 167,000 students have opted out of the school district’s mask mandate. Palm Beach County is home to the 10th largest school district in the U.S.
Burke called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to look at current policies and make changes in the interest of students.
“The governor’s got to take responsibility for establishing the ground rules we’re operating under. This ability for families to opt out is leading to more cases, which will ultimately send more kids home and deprive them of that traditional classroom experience,” he told MSNBC on Thursday.
The news comes a day after five district employees tested positive for COVID.
The Palm Beach County school district said it does not have access to the specifics of anyone’s medical information.
Details as to who, when and where is confidential information not shared with school district officials, according to a spokeswoman. Employees who test positive notify a supervisor and the Florida Department of Health does contact tracing and notification of people who may have been in contact with that person.
The issue highlights growing concerns expressed by school officials across the state in not being able to mandate masks in schools.
Broward County does not start school until Wednesday, Aug. 18 and Miami-Dade County starts Monday, Aug. 23.
Students can no longer do distance learning at the same pace as they would in person, Burke said. They can do only traditional, in-person learning or virtual school, which is different from the distance-learning option many students used last year.
“The governor’s executive order allowed that sunset,” he said. “You can go through the virtual school, you’re not staying with your homeroom teacher, you don’t have that live instruction, you go at your own pace.”
Burke expressed frustration Thursday over not being able to fully mandate masks. He said it is the best way to ensure a safe environment in classrooms, where students have the best chance, academically and socially.
“I think if we really are committed to keeping kids in school, we should reassess the situation,” Burke said.
The Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County did not immediately respond to a request for an age breakdown of the COVID cases.