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Schools: Quarantines will prompt 'perpetual disruptions'

David Adlerstein
The Apalachicola Times

The Franklin County School District has confirmed the county health department has issued voluntary quarantine orders for several students and staff members at Franklin County Schools, but that’s about all the details that have so far emerged.

Franklin County District Schools logo

Deanna Simmons, a spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Franklin/Gulf Counties, said the quarantine orders were issued after communication with school district personnel, who have access to school attendance.

“In the event they identify an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19, is symptomatic or has been exposed to the virus, the Department of Health will work with the school district to provide the appropriate guidance,” she said.

“In order to protect the privacy of any individual(s) under investigation and any potential contacts, we will refrain from sharing personal details on cases or potential cases,” Simmons said. “It should be noted that the purpose of quarantine is to restrict the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease.

“People who are in quarantine have not received a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19. What this means is that a student, teacher, and/or staff member could have been exposed to COVID-19 within the community and in an effort to prevent and control the spread of the virus, are quarantining,” she said.

In the district’s release Superintendent Traci Yoder said “all necessary safety, cleaning, and sanitizing procedures and protocol (are being followed) We will continue to partner with our local health department, families, and community stakeholders to provide the safest learning environment possible for all students and staff.”

The release said an affected COVID-19 positive individual, or one with direct contact with a COVID-19 positive individual, will not be allowed to return to school until cleared by the health department. Quarantine orders depend heavily on "close contact," which health officials define as being within six feet of someone suspected of COVID-19 exposure or positive testing, for at least 15 minutes, regardless of face covering.

Yoder said families should anticipate “perpetual disruptions" from quarantine orders that could happen daily. “This means anyone exposed to a possible or positive COVID-19 case could be sent home for a 14-day quarantine, return to school or work, and be sent home again if exposed to another possible or positive COVID-19 case,” reads the release.

“Every effort will be made to maintain a ‘continuity of instruction’ so quarantined students can continue learning with their own teacher, or at least a teacher from their own school,” it reads. “This may not always be possible.”

Yoder said that out of 909 students enrolled at Franklin County Schools and the alternative learning center, 202 have opted for the innovative learning option, in which they view their lessons digitally, off-campus.

Apalachicola Bay Charter School Principal Chimene Johnson said that 314 of the school’s student body returned to brick and mortar, and 61 students opted for the virtual learning ABC program.

“The last two days have run very smoothly,” Johnson said. “Students returning to campus have quickly learned the routines of keeping masks on while transitioning from one place to another, keeping shields or masks on when working closely with others, washing hands frequently, and walking in a six-foot distance when possible.”

At both schools, students have been served breakfast in the classrooms before starting the day. “Limited numbers of students walk to the lunchroom to pick up a hot meal before returning to class for lunch,” Johnson said.

At both schools, meals remain available to all students learning at home, and physical education and recess are provided daily with students staying in their grade level class cohorts.

“Teachers have done an excellent job of making connections with students in class and online. The staff is working extremely hard to meet the needs of all students wherever they are,” she said.

Yoder said Franklin County Schools are adjusting to a greater number of students in virtual learning than were initially enrolled prior to the deadline at the start of the school year.

She said that the district is weighing its options to assign additional teachers to digital learning duties, with teachers likely to have to devote multiple periods to virtual learning duties.

“It’s going to impact everyone,” Yoder said. “Elementary is easier because teachers are certified for all content areas. So with grades Kindergarten through six, teachers could be assigned multi-age classrooms.

“Secondary is more content-specific so it’s a little more complex,” she said.

Yoder said that in the career technical programs, student options are limited, because areas such as welding or culinary arts have to be taught onsite.

“There has to be in-person learning and they would have to come to campus for that,” she said.

“This is a very steep learning curve for everyone,” she said.