PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Summer has been extended for all five school districts in the viewing area, but on the Treasure Coast many students and teachers will be returning to the classroom.
With COVID-19 cases still surging in South Florida, districts are putting new protocols in place if someone on campus were to test positive for the coronavirus.
"This will be the most challenging year we ever faced in public education," St. Lucie Public Schools Superintendent Wayne Gent said.
The beginning of the year has been pushed back and the school calendar has been changed, but the coronavirus crisis is not only causing concern, but also a host of challenges.
"Everybody is scared," Sandy Rohn, who has been a behavior tech for 15 years, said. "They're nervous and they want to know they're going to be safe and they're not going to bring stuff home to their family."
Rohn works with exceptional special education students and is set to return to Fort Pierce Central High School in August.
SPECIAL SECTION: Back to School
"I know it's better for them to be with us," Rohn said. "I know a lot of them need the one-on-one, but is it worth their lives to give them that?"
One of her worries is if a student of staff member tests positive. Gent told WPTV NewsChannel 5 there is now a protocol, and the district would take the lead from the Florida Department of Health in St. Lucie County.
"They would be immediately sent home. The health department would be notified and their medical provider would be notified," Gent said. "Was an entire classroom exposed? Was it just isolated? All those questions, we would rely on the health department, as well as our own contingency plans that we have in place for that."
A flow chart has been created to show St Lucie County's response to a case in school. The health department will do contact tracing to determine who else will need to be tested and isolated or quarantined for 14 days, and that person can only return to class when there are no symptoms.
"When you're in high school and middle school, that's going to be a nightmare trying to do that contact tracing," Rohn said. "Kids want to go back to school because they want to go back to normal, but it's not going to be normal when we go back."
The Education Association of St. Lucie, the union representing educators and support staff, said it is still in discussions with the school district to answer questions and iron out the details regarding the upcoming school year.
Martin County has also put new policies in place regarding the virus. Anyone who comes within 6 feet of someone, for at least 15 minutes, who tests positive, must quarantine until it is safe to return to the classroom.
Both districts are offering options for parents, and many are choosing virtual learning. That will help cut down on class sizes and will also allow students to space out more in classrooms and in the cafeteria. Masks are also being required.