Pinellas County schools open Aug. 24; here’s what you need to know
Superintendent Dr. Keith Perrigan shows the new seating configuration on the school buses for the upcoming school year, Thursday in Bristol, Va. (David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP)

School bus in Virginia

As school districts across Florida look to reopen school doors, Pinellas County’s School Board went over scenarios including virus outbreaks, begging the question: What happens if…? 

While each scenario will vary depending on nuanced circumstances, the county has set up a general procedure for different situations. The county will evolve with updated CDC guidelines. 

The Pinellas County School District will have a COVID-19 team to help address scenarios. The team consists of two nurses and two representatives from human resources, and is expanding. 

What happens if a teacher tests positive? 

If a teacher tests positive, they must notify the principal, who will then continue the chain of notifications to the COVID-19 Dashboard and Department of Health. The COVID Team will get more information from the teacher. 

Following that, the teacher will be directed to self-isolate, and a letter will be sent out among all of the teachers students, who will also be required to quarantine for 14 days, temporarily moving to online classes. 

Sara O’Toole, the managing officer of Pinellas County Student Health Services, emphasized that if this situation occurs at a secondary school, it will be much different, because of the number of students and classes the teacher has throughout the day. 

“A secondary scenario, as you can imagine, the magnitude is going to be much more,” O’Toole said. “It’s very important for the board to hear and for our families to hear the magnitude will be greater.”

Vice Chairperson Eileen Long expressed concern over outbreak protocol for secondary institutions, as the plan only demands that students who had direct contact with the teacher in the classroom be quarantined, despite students interacting with others throughout the day. 

“The teacher gets it, they might not know that day,” Long said. “Then those kids have then gone to all those classes. Am I seeing this wrong? Aren’t we having to do more?”

Prevention is what the district is hoping to maintain to avoid the spread — teachers are also not supposed to be in the classroom if they have a pending COVID test. 

“Every scenario is going to be a little bit different,” O’Toole said. “In an ideal world, the teacher would not have been at work when the positive test result occurred.”

The teacher’s classroom will be deep cleaned according to protocol, which includes the use of Clorox-360 electrostatic sprayers. The Pinellas County COVID Team will follow up with those quarantined within the district, and the Florida DOH will follow up with any contacts outside of the district. 

The teacher can finally return to work with clearance from a healthcare provider. Students can return after 14 days if they remain without symptoms. Students do not need to take a test to return. 

If an employee tests positive, the same steps will be followed, with the DOH researching and creating a list of contacts to be quarantined. 

What happens if a student tests positive? 

If a parent or the DOH notifies the principal that their student has tested positive the COVID Team will confirm the information with the Department of Health. If confirmed, the principle will send home siblings across schools. 

The COVID Team will send out letters to a line list of students — a list of students in each of the case

The Department of Health will also identify contacts outside of the classroom, including: buses, sports, clubs.

“All the areas of the school day that a student touches are going to be affected, in some way, shape or form,” O’Toole said. 

Affected classes will be disinfected, and students can return after 14 days of showing no symptoms. 

What happens if a student comes to school sick? 

If a student goes to school feeling unwell, the nurse will assess the student’s symptoms.

Students will be sent home if they have one of the following: a fever greater than 100.4°F  (taken via no-contact thermometer), if they have a cough, display shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, vomiting or diarrhea.

Nurses can send students home if they exhibit two of the following symptoms: chills, fatigue, muscle/body aches, headache, new decrease in taste or smell,  sore throat, new congestion or runny nose and nausea

We’re not going to be sending home every sore throat, every runny nose,” O’Toole said. “What tends to get lost is that kids do get sick for a multitude of other reasons that are not related to COVID-19.”

Who’s coming back? 

The district, which is made up of about 100,000 students, also released updated school choices at the board workshop. As of Aug. 6, 55.5% of students opted for traditional, brick-and-mortar schooling, 41.4% opted for MyPCS Online and 3.1% enrolled in Pinellas Virtual School. 

Of Pinellas County’s 7,050 teachers, 1,550 have requested alternate assignments from in-person teaching for various reasons — 292 have documented underlying health concerns, 33 are over 65, 110 live with someone with an underlying health condition and 1,115 do not yet feel comfortable going back. 

The teachers in the first two categories (over 65 or with underlying health conditions) are the highest priority for reassignment for the district. As of Tuesday morning, about 140 teachers with underlying health conditions and more than 11 of the teachers over 65 had been placed in a virtual position.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].

One comment

  • Sonja Fitch

    August 13, 2020 at 5:14 am

    Stop! Think of the school year as 365 days! There are plenty of safe solutions and plans with more days! Stop! Thinking the “full day”! A day could be 2 hours a day from 6-6! It is criminally negligent to place school employees and students in a position of community spreading! How many will die or be crippled for months? ITS NOT WORTH ONE LIFE to be LOST!

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