WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County's new superintendent of public schools said 440 students have been quarantined because of COVID-19 after just two days of in-classroom instruction.
Speaking on MSNBC, Superintendent Michael Burke said Thursday morning there have been 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Palm Beach County schools since the 2021-22 academic year started on Tuesday.
Of those cases, 37 are students and 14 are employees.
"You're talking about, little over two cases per school on average," Burke said. "That's a concern. I would say it's a potential growing concern, and we're monitoring it very closely."
In updated data posted on the district's dashboard Thursday night, there are 131 confirmed cases: 105 students and 26 employees.
Face masks are now mandatory for all students and staff members inside Palm Beach County public schools and on school district transportation. However, parents can opt their children out of wearing facial coverings.
A spokesperson said Thursday that 6,394 of the roughly 167,000 students in the School District of Palm Beach County have opted out of wearing masks, or nearly 4%.
"We're not allowed to isolate students if they choose to exercise that choice to opt out," Burke said. "So we're not allowed to, you know, partition off individual classrooms. We're not allowed to tell students where to sit on the bus, that type of thing."
INTERVIEW WITH SUPERINTENDENT:
Last month, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an emergency order that gives parents the final say over whether their children should be masked in school.
"The governor's got to take responsibility for establishing the ground rules we're operating under," Burke said. "And this ability for families to opt out is leading to more cases, which is ultimately going to send more kids home and deprive them of that traditional classroom experience."
Burke added that if DeSantis is really committed to keeping kids in school, he should reassess the current situation.
"We can't completely mitigate the risk, but I think if we could mandate the face coverings, have our kids in the classroom, that would be the best shot," Burke said. "The academic and social, emotional benefits to having students in school outweigh some of the risks."
.@pbcsd Superintendent Mike Burke on @MSNBC:— Ryan Hughes (@HughesWPTV) August 12, 2021
-440 students are now in quarantine after two days of school
-51 positive cases total after Day 2
-5,700 students have opted out of wearing a mask (parent signed a note)
Burke asks @GovRonDeSantis to reassess the situation. @WPTV pic.twitter.com/Lm5p1pDclu
If Palm Beach County students are forced to quarantine because of COVID-19, the school district said "teachers will provide students with make-up work in a timely manner."
That make-up work will be posted in Google Classroom or emailed to quarantined students, or a family member not under quarantine can pick up packets of the make-up work at the school's front office.
"We're gonna have to see how it goes," Burke said. "I'm hoping we're gonna continue to get the message out behind the importance of wearing a mask. And we're doing everything else we can to mitigate the threat. But, you know, I suspect things are gonna grow somewhat exponentially."
For more information about online instruction resources for students in the School District of Palm Beach County, click here.
St. Lucie Public Schools said there have been 76 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in schools since the new academic year started on Tuesday, including 66 students and 10 employees.
A spokesperson in St. Lucie County said 604 students are currently in quarantine, but many of those children were exposed prior to school starting on Tuesday and haven’t even been able to return to class yet. 32 students are in quarantine from exposure in school.
The Martin County School District said there were three confirmed cases on the first day of school Wednesday, and a total of 10 students have been quarantined.
School districts in Okeechobee and Indian River County have not released COVID-19 data for the new school year yet.