Lee schools halts case log, redirects to state health report
The Lee County School district held a staged simulation for members of the media of what school will look like with volunteer students and staff from The Alva School on Wednesday August 5, 2020. The district has implemented safety protocols to keep students safe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of those protocols include social distancing, in the hallways and classrooms and required face masks. They also have an isolation room for students who show signs of COVID-19 during the school day. (Photo: Andrew West, The News-Press-The USA Today Network)
Positive cases of COVID-19 will no longer be posted every morning to the Lee County school system’s website.
On Tuesday, the district replaced its online dashboard that tracked positive cases in the public school system with a link to a Florida Department of Health report. The data lists out COVID-19 cases tied to public and private schools, colleges and universities in Florida.
The information is expected to be released every Tuesday, said Rob Spicker, a spokesperson for the school system.
District officials made the change because the state’s data “is more detailed” than the information shared by the schools, Spicker said.
“We believe it just provides extra information that increases the transparency of the reporting,” he said.
State data shows 65 K-12 schools or school-related facilities in Lee County have been touched by COVID-19 between Sept. 6 and Oct. 10. This includes private, charter and public schools, including the main office of the Lee County school system in Fort Myers and its early childhood education center.
Overall, 127 positive cases were reported during that period.
In the last week of data, from Oct. 4 to Oct. 10, the county had 31 positive cases tied to schools or related buildings.
The Lee school district began sharing the dates and locations of COVID-positive situations on Sept. 2, which was the third day of school.
The alerts were specific to face-to-face instruction at the school system’s traditional public schools, and messages were only sent out when an infected person had been on campus, either as a student, employee or visitor.
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More: Second Lee County school classroom quarantined due to COVID-19
The log never tallied up how many positive cases were tied to a campus or explained whether a case was related to students or employees. Quarantine numbers weren’t shared, either.
The district has stood behind the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, known as FERPA, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, to justify not releasing identifying information about the alerts, such as a person’s age, gender or title.
The state’s data identifies whether a positive case is tied to students, teachers, staff or an unknown person, and specifies whether individuals were experiencing symptoms associated with the virus.
When comparing the state numbers to the dashboard updated by the school system, Spicker said the numbers didn’t always show a “perfect match.”
He believes this is because the state is tying all learning models, including students who learn from home, into school case data while the district was focused on people who were in physical contact at a building.
Schools will continue to send out alerts to school communities whenever there is a positive case tied to a building. Spicker said the superintendent’s cabinet, which consists of top-level staff, made the decision.
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According to the last update to the dashboard, which was Monday morning, the district had sent 99 alerts about COVID-positive cases. Each alert could be tied to more than one case on campus.
The district is home to 97 traditional public schools that serve around 85,000 students and employs 12,000 people. There are about 43,560 students enrolled in face-to-face classes.
Since the first day of school, two classrooms have shut down for 14-day quarantines. The first occurred at Gateway Elementary School, with a notice sent home to parents on Sept. 10. The second classroom closure was announced to families of Villas Elementary School on Sept. 29.
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