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The number of Palm Beach County students sent home over COVID-19 concerns has more than doubled in two days, raising questions about how to control the virus in schools as it races through Florida again.
The school district said Friday that 1,020 students had been removed from school, up from 440 on Wednesday.
Most of the 1,020 have not tested positive for COVID-19, but they apparently were exposed to someone with the virus. The school district reported 134 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Friday: 108 students and 26 employees.
Many educators have warned of COVID outbreaks in the schools in light of the state’s insistence that students don’t have to wear masks in school if they present a note from their parents. At least 8,518 of Palm Beach County’s 179,000 students had opted out of the mask requirement as of Friday, the district said.
The increasing numbers could serve as a grim glimpse into the future when school starts elsewhere in South Florida this month.
Palm Beach County was the first district to return to the classroom on Tuesday. Broward County schools resume next week and reported Friday that three educators died this week of COVID-19.
School Board member Alexandria Ayala said the spate of stay-home orders is a clear sign that the opt-out policy won’t work to control COVID in schools. To see in-person education continue, additional steps need to be taken to protect students and employees, she said.
“The current situation, having the ability to refuse to wear a mask, makes this virus much harder to control,” she wrote in an email. “We have to move to a place where every single box is checked in fighting this virus, the mitigation strategies we know work — that’s distancing, frequent hand washing, sanitization of hands and objects, air filtration, and consistent masking in public spaces.
“I would like to see opt-outs be approved only when a medical professional has determined someone should not wear a mask,” she added.
The stay-home orders are disrupting students’ education at a time when teachers say they need to be in class to make up the ground they lost during remote learning in the last school year. Test scores dropped dramatically when students were allowed to learn at home.
The Florida Department of Health and Florida Department of Education issued a set of emergency rules last week establishing policies for dealing with COVID in schools.
Students who test positive must wait until they receive a negative test and show no symptoms or wait 10 days after symptoms subside before they can return to school, unless they get a doctor’s note clearing them for a return.
Roxana Rivera, a parent in Wellington, said she was told by email to monitor her two boys this week after three people on Polo Park Middle School’s campus tested positive as recently as Wednesday.
“It’s a little concerning and frustrating because school just started,” she said. “My sons are using masks, but I see several kids without at drop-off and pick-up.”
Rivera said she would have kept her boys home if a true virtual curriculum were an option. But her oldest struggled online last year, she said.
She said it seems unrealistic to try to control COVID in schools, especially when kids aren’t wearing masks.
“Too many people in a small space, going to different classrooms throughout the day and no mask mandate is a recipe for disaster,” she said.
The district’s COVID-19 dashboard listed these positive cases as of Thursday.
- Alexander W. Dreyfoos Jr. School of the Arts: two
- Allamanda Elementary: two
- Cholee Lake Elementary: two
- Christa McAuliffe Middle: six.
- Citrus Cove Elementary: two.
- Diamond View Elementary: two.
- Discovery Key Elementary: two.
- Equestrian Trails Elementary: two.
- Tradewinds Middle: three.
- Frontier Elementary: five.
- Greenacres Elementary: two.
- Hagen Road Elementary: three.
- Independence Middle: three.
- John I. Leonard High: three.
- Jupiter Community High: six.
- Lantana Community Middle: three.
- Lighthouse Elementary: three.
- Marsh Pointe Elementary: three.
- Morikami Park Elementary: three.
- Olympic Heights Community High: two.
- Osceola Creek Middle: three.
- Palm Beach Lakes Community High: six.
- Panther Run Elementary: seven.
- Polo Park Middle: four.
- Sandpiper Shores Elementary: two.
- Seminole Ridge Community High: two.
- The Conservatory School at North Palm Beach (Elementary): two.
- Timber Trace Elementary: two.
- Tradewinds Middle: five.
- Wellington Community High: seven.
- West Gate Elementary: two.
- Western Pines Middle: three.
- Woodlands Middle: two.
Single cases were reported at Banyan Creek Elementary, Belvedere Elementary, Berkshire Elementary, Communications, Crossroads Academy, Don Estridge High Tech Middle, Eagles Landing Middle, Elbridge Gale Elementary, FHESC, H.L. Johnson Elementary, Hospital Homebound, Howell L. Watkins Middle, Jupiter Elementary, Liberty Park Elementary, Limestone Creek Elementary, Loggers Run Community Middle, Maintenance and Plant Operations, Manatee Elementary, Meadow Park Elementary, Pahokee Middle-Senior High, Park Vista Community High, Pine Jog Elementary, Pioneer Park Elementary, South Grade Elementary, South Olive Elementary, Starlight Cove Elementary, Sunrise Park Elementary, Watson B. Duncan Middle and Westward Elementary.
Staff writer Austen Erblat contributed to this report.