Pinellas School officials celebrate first day success despite positive COVID-19 cases in schools
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At least three schools have already had cases of COVID-19 reported.

Pinellas County Schools Superintendent Michael Grego applauded the district for what he described as a successful first day.

That praise came despite reports late Monday that three students and three staff members tested positive for COVID-19, affecting four schools and one district facility. Quarantines were only required at two schools — Northeast High School and Pinellas Park Elementary. The other schools and the district facility did not have to issue quarantines because the students and staff who tested positive self-isolated before school began.

The meeting had almost no discussion about the newly reported cases.

Three speakers showed up for public comment at the meeting to speak on general topics, those not included on the agenda. Of those, two spoke out about the new cases and questioned what School Board members planned to do to continue keeping students, teachers and faculty safe.

None of the board members present responded and adjourned the meeting immediately following comments.

“Because of the decisions that were made in this room, you put those people in contact with hundreds of other people,” said teacher Christy Foust regarding the positive cases in schools. “Now that the pressure of funding is off the board, will you do the right thing?”

A Leon County judge on Monday sided with the state’s largest teacher’s union on its lawsuit challenging the Florida Department of Education’s emergency order requiring schools to open brick and mortar schools five days a week or risk losing state funding.

On its face, the order allows individual school districts to determine whether or not to open for in-person learning without risking state funding. However, the state is likely to appeal the order, which would likely result in a stay of its implementation. So, districts may still be concerned about funding if they choose not to hold regular in-person classes.

Foust is on a leave of absence, she said, because her request to teach online at the beginning of the school year was rejected. Instead, she opted to sit the year out.

Not only did board members not answer her question, nor one from a previous speaker, they spent much of Tuesday’s meeting talking up the first day of school.

School Board member Bill Dudley said he went to Northeast High School as students were arriving to observe the situation on the ground. Northeast High was one of the schools where an unknown number of students and staff were forced into quarantine for two weeks after a student tested positive for COVID-19. Dudley was speaking at the meeting in-person, though social distancing was in place and members were all wearing masks.

“I checked back later at the end of the day and they had no issues with masks so the kids are buying into it,” Dudley said.

Grego told board members safety precautions were successfully implemented, including classes with fewer students and less crowded buses. He said about half of the district’s school bus fleet had space to limit seating to one student per bench, of which there are 44. On the rest, he said, there were no more than two students per bench. The benches are large enough for three students sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, but certainly no where near large enough for two children to sit with the recommended six-feet of separation between them.

Recognizing limitations, Grego implored families to be partners in ensuring school safety amid a pandemic. He said any student, teacher or faculty member who has a COVID-19 test pending should not attend schools nor should any who are symptomatic or who live in a home with someone who has tested positive for the virus.

“If we all do that we’re going to have much fewer disruptions,” Grego said.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected].

One comment

  • Joe Fatala

    August 25, 2020 at 2:40 pm

    So Greco says success is 6 covid cases!!!!!!! Wonder what he’s going to say when it’s 12 next week. And of course the entire board’s not going to answer questions because they don’t have any. Hey, it’s not their kids who will get sick so they just don’t care.

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