With COVID-19 positive cases increasing in Florida, The School District of Manatee County changes COVID-19 protocols
Sharon Scarbrough, the principal at Braden River High School, was thrilled as she welcomed back hundreds of students after the winter break.
“It was good to see some other kids back full time on campus,” Scarbrough said.
Although Braden River High School still has about 30%, or approximately 400, of its students home for e-learning, that number continues to shrink as parents feel it is safe to send their children back to school campuses.
With more students on campus, Braden River High, along with other schools in the School District of Manatee County, are continuing all the COVID-19 mitigations already in place, such as social distancing, wearing face masks and encouraging hand-washing.
Now with COVID-19 cases increasing throughout Florida and the country, the school district, following guidelines from the Florida Department of Health Manatee, has put additional protocols in place.
Prior to the district’s two-week winter break, if a student displayed COVID-19 symptoms at school, the student was isolated until the parents could pick him or her up.
The student was referred for medical evaluation and testing. If the student’s symptoms improved, and the student had no exposure or close contact with a person confirmed with COVID-19, the student was allowed to return to school after being symptom and fever-free for at least 24 hours.
Beginning Jan. 6, the first day of school for students in the district, students who display symptoms at school will continue to be isolated, but the procedures for returning have changed.
Students can return to school with evidence of a negative COVID-19 test and when symptoms have improved, including the student being fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication. The student also must present documentation from a medical provider stating the student can return to school.
For families who do not seek medical care or testing, students cannot return to school until at least 10 days have passed since the symptoms first appeared. At that point, the student must be free of a fever for at least 24 hours, and the symptoms must have improved.
In the first week of school since the break ended, the district has reported 10 cases across eight schools in the county, including single cases at Lakewood Ranch and Braden River high schools.
Melissa Parker, a school district spokesperson, said that schools will continue to follow mitigation measures, such as asking symptom-related questions of all students, taking temperatures, cleaning and sanitizing schools daily, and limiting access to campuses.
“We’re pretty confident our families are doing a good job listening,” Parker said. “They need to make sure they understand the new guidelines. We hope all these mitigation measures will keep us moving toward having a successful year.”
Parker said Cynthia Saunders, the district superintendent, is developing a partnership with Manatee County Regional Health to obtain vaccines for employees who are 65 years old or older when they become available.
Parker said about 300 employees in the district are at least 65 years old.
As of Jan. 8, Parker said a timeline for when the vaccines would become available was not certain because MCR Health hadn’t received any vaccines.
Although the district can encourage employees to get vaccinated, Parker said employees will not be required to become vaccinated.