Lack of distance learning impacting COVID-19 case counts in schools

A custodial worker sanitizes a surface at a Palm Beach County school during the 2021_22 academic year.jpg
Posted at 1:56 PM, Aug 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-18 19:07:16-04

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — Within the first week of school, confirmed COVID-19 cases among students in the School District of Palm Beach County doubled from day two to day three. By the fifth day of school, student cases tripled.

There are concerns about the rising numbers and what guidelines the school district is able to put in place.

Last school year, students had the option of doing online distance learning at home. That is not an option this year, and we are seeing the impacts in the COVID case counts already after the first week of school.

Going into week two of the new school year with only in-person learning, teachers in the School District of Palm Beach County are watching the COVID-19 case dashboard.

"I'm not sure what number they are waiting for us to get to before they say it’s serious," said Steven Silberberg, a teacher at a Palm Beach County middle school.

Silberberg said that last year, at least distance learning was an option, making it easier for students in-person to social distance in class.

"I'm also concerned that the guidelines aren’t what they used to be. It used to be six feet, then it was three feet, and now there’s absolutely no social distancing," Silberberg said.

According to each school district’s COVID case dashboard for the first week of school, Palm Beach County had 499 confirmed COVID cases reported among students and staff. 420 students tested positive out of 167,000 on campuses, which is .25% of students.

Compare that to the first week of in-person learning in 2020, where five students out of the 54,000 who were in-person tested positive.That’s .20% of students.

In Martin County, 32 students tested positive for COVID-19 in the first five days of school out of 17,580 students. Last school year, five students out of about 7,000 learning in-person tested positive in the first week of school.

St Lucie County schools had 122 student COVID cases in the first week of school out of 41,150 students. In 2020, two students out of about 20,000 in-person tested positive in the first week.

20 students tested positive in the first week at Indian River County schools. In 2020, the district almost made it through the whole first week of school without positive cases, but had one student test positive out of just over 10,000 on the Friday of the first week of classes.

Okeechobee County schools had 18 students out 5,980 test positive for COVID. In 2020 during the first week of school, the district had two positive cases when 3,813 students learned in-person.

In Palm Beach County, Jupiter High School has the highest student COVID case count per school at 30 confirmed cases. It also has the most students opting out of mask wearing at 995.

"I ask my co-workers and other people in the education field what number will they still feel safe coming to school. Whether it's 20 per school, which we already have at several of the high schools. Jupiter High, Wellington, Christa McAuliffe Middle School, or is it 50 is it 100?" Silberberg said.

School Board Member Alexandria Ayala for District 2 said she’s in favor of putting in policies for extreme caution, like changing the mask mandate to a medical exemption instead of an opt-out policy.

But then again, the Florida Board of Education made it clear to school districts on Tuesday that is not allowed and consequences would follow.