However, the state has not provided this key information.
On campus, “people broke the rules”
Florida began reopening schools on August 10. On that day, 42,761 children under the age of 18 across the state were infected with the coronavirus, the state’s Department of Health reported.
That week, nine of the 12 school districts that opened their doors were in counties with positivity rates above 5 percent, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s highest threshold for schools to offer in-person learning. CNN confirmed the list of districts it plans 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 Florida children tested positive for Covid-19, with a positive rate of 14.3 percent, according to state data.
In Martin County, the positivity rate among children tested is 20.5 percent, according to the latest state data.
Reese Richardson began seventh grade in person on August 11 at a public school in Martin County. But after about a week and a half, he decided to switch to virtual learning.
“The kids were taking off their masks,” Reese said. “They were touching. They were close together in the corridors. People were breaking the rules.”
The Martin County School District is one of those districts that releases its Covid-19 data through the media. One day after the reopening, an entire classroom was quarantined. A month later, it reported 23 positive or presumed positive cases and quarantined 510 students. The district has 16,500 K-12 students.
Lindsey Tarpley appreciates the district’s transparency, 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 decisions for them to go to school,” Tarpley said.
But Jill Richardson, Reese’s mom and former teacher, wants more transparency from the district and the state.
“I don’t feel like I’m getting updated or accurate numbers,” Richardson said.
District-level data varies in detail
Depending on how the data is tracked and displayed, this piecemeal approach can make it difficult to keep tabs on new cases and may not specify which schools, grades, or classrooms the infected students have been in.
Florida’s largest teachers union in a new TV commercial is pushing the state to release full data.
“As the virus spreads, the ones above aren’t giving us the information we need,” says the narrator in the announcement. “Instead, Governor DeSantis plays politics with the health of our children.”
“When we deny what’s going on in schools, … when we deny that information, the spread increases much faster,” said Andrew Spar, president of the Florida Education Association.
As to why his administration hasn’t released school-specific Covid-19 data, DeSantis said this during a 9/11 press conference.
“It’s not like a test is referring to the state that the state necessarily knows which school it’s from. That’s not how it’s going,” he said in response to a CNN question.
DeSantis asked his commissioner for education and state surgeon general to provide the information, he said. But no date was given for the release of the data.
Students’ mental health is also a factor
The state does not require public schools in Martin County to report the number of students and staff who have been quarantined or tested positive, Superintendent Laurie Gaylord told CNN.
Students quarantined in Martin County stay at home. In some cases, a teacher – considered an essential worker – with the same coronavirus exposure is required to report to work for education in person the next day.
Despite all these challenges, many parents and teachers in Florida are comfortable with physical education. In Martin County public schools, 64% of students attend classes in person and 36% learn remotely.
At Jensen Beach Elementary School in Martin County, pavilions are marked to facilitate social distancing. The dining room is disinfected after each use. But the desks in some classrooms aren’t 6 feet apart. Parents had been warned that social distancing would not always be possible, Gaylord said, so masks must be worn in schools.
Tarpley, the mum and the Martin school employee, is confident the district is doing everything it can to protect her children, she said. And she believes there is no substitute for being in a classroom in terms of her children’s mental health and well-being.
“With everything in life,” he said, “there is a risk.”