With the first day of school less than two weeks away, Pinellas County School superintendent Mike Grego said there’s still work to be done in terms of making preparations for what happens should a student or staff member test positive for Covid-19.
“We don’t have all the answers yet,” he said during a marathon school board workshop Tuesday leading up to a specially-called board meeting, which had not started as of 4 p.m. “The information continues to evolve.”
During the workshop, Grego and other members of the county’s leadership team went over school reopening details, including enhanced classroom disinfectant measures, mask requirements, teacher and student learning intents for the fall, funding and the need for priority access to Covid testing and results. A portion of the workshop focused on the protocol should teachers, staff members or students test positive.
Sara O’Toole, managing officer of school health services for Pinellas County Schools, said that each positive case will contain nuances and will be handled individually. She said the district is still awaiting additional guidance from the state, adding the goal is for protocols to be the same across all the counties.
“It’s challenging to write something in black and white when we don’t even know all the scenarios,” she said. “It’s important for all of us to remember to be flexible and gracious with each other as we work through these things.”
O’Toole shared several scenarios for what should happen in case a student or a teacher tests positive for Covid. These scenarios include teachers and students being required to quarantine for 14 days. The number of people who will have to stay home for 14 days will likely be higher in middle and high school, where students change classes and come into contact with more people.
Just over 55 percent of parents who answered the county’s reopening survey have opted to send their kids back to traditional in-person learning, with 41.4 percent choosing MyPCS Online, where students remain in their home schools and take classes live online. An additional 3.1 percent selected Pinellas Virtual School, which is a self-paced online learning program.
As of Aug. 10, 371 teachers have accepted full-time MyPCS Online or Pinellas Virtual School assignments. The process of teacher assignments is still being finalized. Teachers are also being given the opportunity to take a one-year unpaid leave of absence. Their positions won’t be held at their schools, but will be held in the district.
Toward the end of the workshop, deputy superintendent William Corbett and board attorney David Koperski talked about school funding in light of the state’s emergency orders to offer both a brick-and-mortar option for school reopening. Corbett said the district could lose $167 million if they don’t follow the state’s reopening guidelines. The Hillsborough County School district is currently dealing with potential economic fallout for changing its reopening plans to online only.
“You’ve seen what’s happened across the bay what happens if someone doesn’t take advantage of it. That leads the DOE to say ‘we’re not bluffing,'” Koperski said, adding he doesn’t recommend that Pinellas County join the legal challenge since courts have not been favorable to school boards.
Board member Nicole Carr said she’s still uncertain about how safe it is to return to school and would like to continue to have conversations as the first day of school gets closer. However, she said she doesn’t think it’s beneficial for the school board to push back when there’s not a rationale for doing it.