For now, Sarasota County Schools still plan to open to in-person classroom instruction at the end of the month.
The school district and county health department are closely tracking the percent of people testing positive for coronavirus. Since the pandemic began, the overall positivity rate has been about 8.3% in Sarasota. The seven-day average peaked at about 11 percent a few weeks ago and has declined a bit to 7.1% now.
Those numbers were presented in a school board workshop Tuesday by county epidemiologist Michael Drennon. He attributes that decline to precautions like mask-wearing and social distancing.
In this exchange with School Board member Eric Robinson, Drennon said that the state Department of Health has not yet given guidance on metrics for school-reopening but he expects it soon.
Robinson: “You are by no means recommending that we don’t open schools.”
“At this time that is correct.”
Robinson: “Okay. You’re recommending that we continue on with the existing plan, correct?”
“Yes. Continue on with the existing plan. Continue to monitor the numbers and see what additional guidance comes out at this time.”
Robinson: “And when will you get that additional guidance that you said you are waiting on? Because that will help do what Ms. Goodwin had previously discussed.”
“It will help us a lot and I know it will help you a lot as well. I am hoping the end of this week, early next week. That’s what has been communicated to us from Tallahassee.”
Robinson: “I’m going to ask the converse. Closing. Once we open, what criteria should we be looking at to realize, the Department of Health’s going to be looking at to close the schools? Is it going to be a certain percentage that you’re going want to close the schools at?”
“Right now I can’t speak to that. I’m waiting on some additional guidance from our central office, which may or not include the threshold numbers for closing.
“Locally and as it stands now we’ll be looking at the incidence of disease within schools to kind of drive some of the recommendations we make. If these numbers start to go the other direction, we’ll definitely have to have conversations about appropriate steps to take. But a threshold number right now, I don’t have. And would have to seek additional guidance from our central office related to that.”
Michael Drennon admitted there’s not enough coronavirus testing happening in Sarasota County.
School Board member Jane Goodwin pointed out that among children in Sarasota County who have been tested for coronavirus, there’s a 9.8 percent positive rate.
Goodwin said she’s concerned about coronavirus outbreaks in Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee after in-person classes began.
The school district will ask parents to take the temperature of kids each day before they go to school. But a school board member pointed out that some parents don’t have thermometers.
The school district mentioned that its enrollment is expected to be lower this year by about 1,800 students. About 1,000 of those are because of fewer kids enrolling in kindergarten. The district said it would need to cut the number of employees if the number of students does decline.
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