The debate over whether masks will be required in Pasco County Schools is over, in Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning’s mind.
“That issue has been settled. The governor (Gov. Ron DeSantis) has taken that issue on, as his issue. The governor has made that decision. There is no local decision-making regarding masks. And, he has said there will not be a mask mandate. We understand that,” Browning said.
The issue of quarantining people who have been exposed to COVID-19, however, is another matter.
“I know there’s been a lot of questions about quarantining,” Browning said at the July 27 Pasco County School Board meeting.
He told board members that he and members of his staff met with Mike Napier, administrator for the Florida Department of Health-Pasco County, and members of Napier’s team.
They discussed issues relating to COVID and the coming school year.
“As far as quarantining goes, that was the main issue that staff wanted to talk about yesterday (during that meeting),” Browning said.
“We know that is probably one of the more problematic issues, the more challenging issues, pressing issues — as you see COVID numbers dramatically increasing,” Browning said.
The superintendent noted that the COVID situation is at “about the same place as we were in December, which is frightening, if you will, particularly as we approach the start of a school year.”
That being said, Browning added: “The quarantine rules will remain the same. The quarantining rules are not made by this superintendent, this board or the superintendent’s staff. The quarantining rules are set by the state. They’re the health experts.”
Browning said until he’s directed by the Florida Department of Health in Tallahassee, the quarantining rules will remain the same.
“All symptomatic cases will be sent home for 10 days. If you’re not vaccinated and you have come in contact with a positive case and the health department has made the determination that you’ll quarantine, then you’ll quarantine.
“If you are vaccinated and come in contact with a positive case and you are asymptomatic — not showing any signs — then you can remain in school, either as a student or as a teacher.
“We take the direction from the state department of health. They’re the ones who set these rules. We do not set these rules,” Browning said.
The superintendent also told board members that a Florida Department of Health grant will provide funding for the school district to hire, on a contract basis, licensed practical nurses and registered nurses, to perform contact tracing.
The district will have little to no involvement in that effort, he said.
“I want to make sure that our school nurses are in fact back in schools, doing their jobs, as school nurses — providing health services to our kids,” Browning said.
Browning also told board members that he and his staff had spent considerable time going over the COVID protocols for the coming year, in terms of athletics, fine arts, social distancing, cleaning protocols and so on.
When the district was gearing up for a new school year, Browning said, “I did not think we would have the positivity rate that we have today, two weeks ago, but we do.”
Board members told Browning that parents and staff must be kept informed.
School board member Colleen Beaudoin said she thinks the health department should be taking the lead in providing information about how quarantines will be handled.
“I feel like we’re being put in a position of having to be a spokesman for the health department. Really, that’s not our job,” Beaudoin said.
School board member Alison Crumbley said, “I think it’s important that we get the picture to the parents as soon as possible about what the quarantine is going to look like for their kids.”
“Parents want to know how kids will be able to continue with their education, if they’re quarantined,” she said.
School board member Megan Harding wants the district to do what it can, to keep healthy kids in school.
“I’m worried about their academic success and their mental health,” Harding said.
Harding added: “I’m getting a lot of questions from teachers now, that if they have to quarantine, what that is going to look like for their classrooms.
Teachers are worried that if they’re forced to quarantine that it will take away from their sick time. She asked if the district is making provisions for that.
Kevin Shibley, assistant superintendent for administration, said discussions must be held with the union before any specific actions can be taken.
Harding said she’s also receiving inquiries about how the district will handle sports, the arts and other activities.
Browning said the district will be sending out procedures to schools soon, outlining how it will address various COVID issues.
Deputy Superintendent Ray Gadd put it like this: “The procedures you’re going to see are going to be considerably looser, as opposed to tighter than they were last year.
“So, as it relates to use of facilities, athletics, various events, they’re going to be looser.
“It’s only looking back, we’ll know if that’s a mistake. But going forward, we’re going to loosen up a little bit, so folks can attend ball games and dances, and things like that,” he said.
Published August 04, 2021
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