Pinellas school district responds to misreporting charter school closure
Students line up for their classroom outside of Oak Terrace Elementary School in Highwood, Ill., on Sept. 3, 2020. Image via AP

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The school district incorrectly reported the charter school had closed its south campus location.

The Pinellas County School district has responded after misreporting the closing of St. Petersburg Collegiate Charter High School’s south campus after news that one student tested positive for COVID-19.

The school district reported that the charter school had closed its south campus location by marking “school initiated closure” in a report on coronavirus cases covering the weekend and Monday, released Tuesday. However, St. Petersburg College said that’s not true — only a portion of SPCHS students were impacted.

A spokesperson for the Pinellas School District said in an email that the ‘school initiated closure’ was in reference to a grade level.

“In an effort not to identify the students we did not say which group of students is impacted,” the district spokesperson wrote. “The school serves 10th, 11th and 12th graders. We do not indicate the grade level when referring to classroom quarantines in PCS schools…the same applies to Charter schools.”

News of the misreporting came in an email late Wednesday night from the SPC executive director of marketing and strategic communications. The email clarified that the school notified individuals affected on Sunday, which included 39 students and 11 faculty and staff. So far, though, there have been no additional cases reported, the spokesperson said.

“This only affected a portion of our SPCHS students and did not constitute a school closure. We do not at this time know why Pinellas County Schools classified this as a ‘school initiated closure’ but I have reached out to their communications department to ask them to amend their database,” the spokesperson wrote in the email.

As of noon Thursday, the district’s database still indicated a “school initiated closure.”

“The college followed CDC and local health department guidelines by initiating contact tracing and closing the space occupied by some SPCHS faculty, staff and students for additional sanitization,” the SPC email continued.

The collegiate charter school, which allows students in grades 10 through 12 to earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from St. Petersburg College, does not have to follow the district guidelines on quarantines and school closures, allowing them the autonomy to close after just one reported case.

For reference, the worst impacted school in the district, East Lake High School, added another student case of COVID-19 on Tuesday, but has only reported impacts to 38 classrooms, most of which were only partial impacts. That brings the school’s total case load to seven students and one employee.

East Lake has by far issued more quarantines than any other public school in the district. The next closest school is St. Petersburg High where 15 classrooms have had quarantines issued.

Charter schools also do not have the same reporting measures as traditional public schools. Just last week Plato Academy Clearwater, Plato Academy Seminole and MycroSchool Pinellas each reported cases previously confirmed, but no other information.

So far 98 Pinellas County Schools students and 45 employees have tested positive for COVID-19 at school campuses. At least 255 classrooms have been impacted. Cases have been confirmed at 69 Pinellas County Schools.

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].


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