Florida Times-Union | by Emily Boch | October 14, 2020
Duncan Fletcher High School classes are abruptly switching to online instruction because of the coronavirus, marking the first Duval County public school to close campus in full.
In an email sent Wednesday afternoon, the Neptune Beach school principal James Ledford cited “multiple COVID-19 cases impacting our school community.” Duval County Public Schools officials are calling the closure “preventative.”
The school is set to undergo deep cleaning while classes take place online Thursday through Monday, Oct. 19. Friday was already supposed to be a teacher planning day, a district schedule shows.
“To be cautious and prudent, we decided it was in the best interest of the school community to shift to online instruction while the full impact is determined,” Duval Schools spokesman Tracy Pierce said.
It’s unclear exactly how many new cases at the school forced the sudden closure. The district confirmed “16 new” cases, in addition to the five cases listed on the school’s dashboard as of Tuesday, bringing the unofficial total to 21.
The district said that number will continue to be updated over the next few days as the state Department of Health continues to call people who are impacted, but it might not immediately reflect all 16 new cases.
According to the school district’s COVID-19 threshold matrix, in order for a school to close, 20 percent of its population would have to be impacted. For Fletcher High School, that would mean roughly 400 students and educators would have to be either COVID-19 positive or needing to quarantine. But the school district said that’s not necessarily the case.
“This is a precautionary measure based on the number of cases of which we are aware,” Pierce said. “The 16 cases currently reported is enough to mathematically estimate the school might be at the 20 percent quarantine threshold [because of the number of possible exposures forcing quarantine orders].”
Pierce said by Monday, Department of Health officials will have completed contact tracing and have a better idea whether the school has met or surpassed the 20 percent threshold, which will determine if classes can resume in-person on Tuesday or if virtual classes need to be extended.
The school closure means extracurricular activities including athletics are canceled for the rest of the week, including a Wednesday evening junior varsity football game and Friday’s varsity game.
Last Friday marked the school’s homecoming football game versus Ribault High School. Though masks were worn and social distancing was largely observed on campus, privately, students speculated on social media that off-campus parties could share some of the blame for new cases. The Times-Union asked Duval Schools officials if homecoming is tied to the closure, but the district declined to answer.
“This is not a question that the district would have the expertise to address,” Pierce said.
According to the school’s website, students and staff personally impacted that need to quarantine will be contacted by the Department of Health.
For online classes starting Thursday, students should be prepared to log in on Duval HomeRoom for first period starting at 7:15 a.m. If students need technology to participate, the school will host “drive-thru” technology distribution hours from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Students will not be penalized if they miss classes because of a lack of technology.
As previously reported by the Times-Union, not all in-person students had a laptop of their own when classes were virtual or even hybrid. The school district is still working to distribute laptops to each student within the district.
Students or staff experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should call the school to receive rapid testing information. Through a partnership with the City of Jacksonville, students and school personnel are able to receive priority testing at certain city testing sites with proper documentation from the school.
Photo: Fletcher High School will close through Monday because of multiple COVID-19 cases, the school district confirmed. The Florida Times-Union