ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – As a precaution to guard against the spread of coronavirus, the St. Johns County School District decided Tuesday evening to cancel all out-of-state field studies, interscholastic activities and sporting events. The school district also canceled all school district travel out of state.
The decision, handed down by Superintendent Tim Forson, came after the district made the move to postpone a choir trip to Italy as travel restrictions tighten amid the coronavirus outbreak.
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The district’s continued response to the challenges presented by the spread of COVID-19 were a topic of discussion at Tuesday morning’s St. Johns County School Board meeting.
“I think one of the biggest challenges is that the conditions seem to be changing,” Superintendent Tim Forson told News4Jax. “As we plan and move forward, it goes from something that seemed to be far away and not impact us to something that could have a very direct impact on our school district. We need to make sure that we ramp up our own plans and our own ability to be responsive.”
There is a level of anxiety for parents and staff surrounding the virus, Forson said, especially as two recent cases of coronavirus were confirmed in nearby Volusia County.
Just after 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Forson sent a letter to all parents and guardians reviewing CDC guidelines that recommend a 14-day self-isolation for anyone traveling to China, South Korea, Italy and Iran. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to those countries.
Spring break for St. Johns County schools is next week.
“Rest assured, I recognize the hardship and burden this puts on those impacted, and our district staff is working with schools to determine the implications and logistics associated with this decision,” Forson wrote in a letter to parents. “I sincerely appreciate your continued support as we continue to work with local partners and monitor the national and international environments.”
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Forson said Tuesday that St. Johns County may be susceptible due to tourism and the fact that Interstate 95 runs through the heart of the county.
“If it gets large scale then we have to be ready,” Forson said.
Two employees in the district told News4Jax that teachers are being asked to keep a list of all students who travel during spring break for possible quarantines. The district had already increased cleaning by the custodial staff and encouraged parents to keep sick children home.
Forson said the district is also working through a plan that would address what would happen if the district is forced to cancel classes and move to remote learning.
The district said any major changes like school closures would come from the local health department.
“The only thing to predict is that it will get much worse before it gets much better," Forson said.