STUART, Fla. — Some Martin County teachers said Thursday they are frustrated over the school district's latest COVID-19 policy, saying teachers can still report to work even if they are living with or exposed to someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The email from the district's human resources department explained that school staff and teachers in Martin County are being considered essential workers. That means they would still quarantine but be allowed to travel between work and their home.
At school, those teachers and staff members would also be required to take health checks before the start of the school day, wear a mask and social distance themselves, working so long as they remain symptom-free.
The following email went out to staff and teachers the day before school started for the year:
All District staff are essential based on Governor DeSantis' Executive Order 20-91.
What does this mean?
This means the 14-day quarantine will not apply for essential employees who have been exposed "the close contact rule" to a person with COVID-19 and the employee IS NOT symptomatic. This includes close contacts in the home, i.e employees who may be living with someone who has COVID. Attached are the CDC recommendations for "essential" workers who are under quarantine but can still report to work.
Quarantine for essential workers is as follows per DOH based on the essential worker status:
If an essential worker is a close contact on the "contact list" and they need to continue to work to help with the needs of the school site to provide services, they are an essential worker. They must have a health check on arrival, wear a mask at all times and social distance, and can work as long as they remain symptom-free. They must immediately report if they have any of the symptoms of COVID019 and not come to work. When not at work, they must be instructed to quarantine at home for 14 days from the last contact with the positive case. They cannot go anywhere else but to work and then home.
What this doesn't do:
- This doesn't change the fact that if you are COVID positive or waiting on a COVID test result, you isolate and do not report to work.
- If an employee is symptomatic and seeking a medical diagnosis this ties directly to the COVID leave. HR will need proof that employees were 1) seeking medical advice (this covers them from symptom to seeing the doctor) and 2) If the doctors determine the employee must quarantine then this covers them for the remaining 10 days of COVID leave.
One teacher, who did not want to be identified, told WPTV, "I thought the timing absolutely was horrendous. You don't tell me the day before school starts that all of a sudden I'm an essential worker."
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She worries that asymptomatic teachers or staff could come to school after being exposed to someone who has the virus.
"We're very concerned," the teacher said. "We're freaked out."
District spokeswoman Jennifer DeShazo said the school district needs to be able to maintain adequate staffing levels to meet brick-and-mortar requirements set by the Florida Department of Education.
"It is not a blanket statement," DeShazo said. "If an employee is informed they would meet the criteria for being quarantined due to being a contact through the contact tracing process, we would meet with them and discuss their personal situation."
She also said the Martin County School District has partnered with Cleveland Clinic Martin Health to provide free rapid testing to teachers and staff who come into contact with someone who is COVID-19 positive. That test, according to DeShazo, would let the teacher or staff member know within 24 hours if he or she is positive.
Other school districts are not considering teachers essential and have laid out different plans for what to do when teachers are exposed.
Palm Beach County is slated to approve its policy, which proposes still requiring teachers to quarantine for 14 days, regardless of whether they are symptomatic. They would not be instructed to return toward until they are free of signs of illness for 14 days or have received a negative test.
St. Lucie County is not considering teachers essential, would also require teachers to quarantine regardless of symptoms or request a negative test result to return to work.
Indian River County is not considering teachers essential workers, would also require teachers to quarantine regardless of symptoms or request a negative test result to return to work.