Many parents are questioning why Camden County Schools won’t release information on COVID-19 cases in schools.
Some parents say the district let them know over the summer that they wouldn’t be notified of positive cases, and to this day, they don’t know how many cases there are.
“There’s some expectation that the school board would show some transparency so we can make the best choices for families,” said one parent, who wished to remain unnamed.
The parent says the district chose on its own not to inform the community, though she says nothing is stopping it from doing so.
“They opted to not divulge that, not inform the community,” she said. “They were just willfully choosing to not let us know.”
She says there was some talk of HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations preventing the release of the information.
Rod Sullivan, a constitutional law expert, says HIPAA doesn’t apply to schools, but FERPA (Family Education Rights Privacy) does.
“It doesn’t regulate what happens with regards to staff or teachers. It only applies to student records, so if the school system wants to make a general statement that somebody in our school has COVID, that’s perfectly permissible as long as it doesn’t identify the student,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan says there’s an exception to the rule when the school system says it’s necessary for the health and safety of students to say who the student is if the student comes in contact with other students. But the laws don’t apply to faculty and staff.
According to a New York Times article, a confidential Aug. 5 email from Deputy Superintendent Jon Miller explicitly told school administrators: “Staff who test positive are not to notify any other staff members, parents of their students or any other person/entity that they may have exposed them.”
“I was absolutely horrified, but immensely grateful that Miller put it in writing,” the parent who News4Jax spoke with said of the email. “It was more of a sense of relief. I was, like, there it is. There’s the proof of everything that so many of us have been feeling.”
On Monday, the school district released a statement: “The Camden County School System does not have a policy telling staff or anyone else not to report if they have been exposed to Covid-19. Staff have been advised that they should report to their principal who will report to the District offices. The purpose is to ensure coordination with the Department of Public Health which is responsible for contact tracing throughout the community and to make sure that consistent and accurate information is provided to parents and staff.”
Districts in other counties relayed how they are communicating positive cases.
Duval County Public Schools said: “The district follows Department of Health protocols to communicate with all impacted individuals.”
The Clay County School District said: “No notifications will be sent by the school if there is a positive case,” but they said if the school gets calls about the case they should message parents saying, “the school has been notified of a possible positive case of COVID-19, however, this information is protected by HIPAA”.
According to the St. Augustine Record, St. Johns County School District Tim Forson said due to HIPAA regulations, the district won’t issue reports when students test positive for the virus or in which classes.