Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning gave the Pasco School Board a briefing on the district’s response to COVID-19 during the board’s Sept. 15 meeting.
“I want to commend the vast majority of our students and staff who are doing the right thing,” he said. “From what I’ve seen and heard, our students and staff are wearing masks and social distancing when possible. People recognize that rules are in place to keep everyone safe and healthy, and the vast majority are being careful and respectful of those rules we put in place.
“The end result is this: Three weeks into the school year and we have certainly had some cases. We’ve been very transparent about that. Hop on our website and you can see all of the numbers, right there on our website.
“There has been an impact at several schools throughout the district. But, it has been manageable and our planning has paid off.
“Most students and staff are being conscientious and are being very disciplined about the quarantine requirements,” the superintendent said.
But, Browning added that he did not want to be dismissive of the impacts that COVID-19 has had on district schools.
Sixty-three students had tested positive and 1,475 had been told to quarantine for 14 days, as of Sept. 18. Also, 26 employees had tested positive and 153 employees had been told to quarantine.
During the school board meeting, Browning noted: “We’ve had some unusual cases where one student tested positive that resulted in dozens of students and staff being required to quarantine. In one school, one positive case resulted in 119 students and 10 staff members having to be quarantined.
“Those cases are unusual. On average for every positive case, 20 people are required to quarantine. That’s like sending a small classroom home, when a student tests positive.
“I know it’s inconvenient. I know it’s disappointing to be the students or the staff that want to be at school, or at work, but it’s also manageable,” the superintendent added.
As of Sept. 15, Browning said, 46 schools or departments had a positive case of a student or employee.
To help prevent the spread, Browning asked students and staff to continue to be conscientious, not only in school, but after school, as well.
“That would go a long way to help us rid the spread of the virus in our schools and in our community,” Browning said.
Don Peace, president of United School Employees of Pasco (USEP), also talked about COVID-19’S impacts.
“As a district, we’re holding our own in this fight against COVID in our workplaces. USEP is pleased with the many protocols we have in place in this district to ensure student and employee safety — and has been outspoken toward that end,” Peace said.
“I would caution though that no amount of negotiation or precautions put in place serve as a guarantee against this illness,” Peace said, adding, “we all need to err on the side of caution, as we navigate this school year.”
Browning also talked about the district’s COVID Command Center, where county health department staff and school district nurses are working together to respond to COVID-19 concerns.
“They’ve offered tremendous support and guidance to our principals, as they have experienced cases at their schools,” Browning said.
“They have been busy. They have been put to the test, every day,” and in the superintendent’s opinion, they have passed, with flying colors.
“We have done a good job, with the management of COVID. The fight is not over yet.
“Masks need to be worn. We need to set the example,” Browning said.
He also talked about the district’s three testing sites, which are for students and district personnel, and are intended to provide quick testing and results. The sites are at Pasco Elementary School, the district office complex and Gulf Middle School. The tests will be given by appointment only.
School board members also offered some observations about the school year so far.
Board member Cynthia Armstrong said she’s been out and about, and has had conversations with parents who have been pleased with what their schools are doing.
“Their kids are glad to be back in school. They’re just glad that we offered the brick-and-mortar opportunity because they really felt that’s what their students needed, what their kids needed,” Armstrong said.
Board chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin said in addition to the district’s good planning, the positive attitude by students and staff have played an important role in responding to challenges presented by COVID-19.
“Overall, I think things have gone more smoothly than we anticipated,” Beaudoin said.
Pasco County Schools COVID cases
63 student cases (1,475 students impacted)
26 employee cases (153 employees impacted)*
* As of 11:30 p.m., Sept. 18
Published September 23, 2020