How St. Johns County plans to report COVID-19 cases in schools

Plexiglas protectors on desks in a St. Johns County classroom. (WJXT)

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson said the school district is working on a way to report COVID-19 cases in schools. One of the options is developing a dashboard similar to the one being created for Duval County schools.

“(DCPS Superintendent) Dr. Greene, and I have a great working relationship,” Forson told News4Jax. “And I know she’s doing a lot of work on that, as are the other districts. So we’ll look to do something similar. I think one of the things we’re all concerned with is making sure that we don’t do some reporting that makes students or employees identifiable. That’s the caution.”

Duval County schools said its dashboard will display confirmed cases on school campuses among students and staff and that it will be updated regularly.

“We know that we’ve got to develop — I don’t know where there’s gonna be a dashboard or report structure or something — that comes from us so that it is most accurate,” Forson said. “I don’t know that we can update it daily, but we’ll try to update it as rapidly as possible and keep that information out.”

There have been 424 school-aged students (5-18 years old) in St. Johns County who have reported positive COVID-19 tests in the last three months, the district said during a school board meeting Tuesday morning.

Of the cases, 50 were reported in June, 303 were reported in July and 71 have been reported in the first 20 days of August.

“You saw a quick spike earlier in the summer, but now we’re seeing a longer, slower decline, which is reassuring, really, I think it is reassuring to us,” Forson said. “Once school opens and once we have that structure in the lives of many of our families, we’re really hopeful that we don’t see an increase but really a decline because of the way things are set up within the school and within the community. Our community seems to be really well committed to doing the right thing.”

The new positive test rate for COVID-19 averaged over a 14-day period for St. Johns County is 6.21%, the district said.

The district’s Health Services Department created a health screening form to help parents assess their child for symptoms. The district also shared a checklist that will be used by a school’s nurse.

For parents interested in the PPE being used by school staff members, the district released a video for that.

To help keep cases low, the school board approved strict face mask rules for students Tuesday. Under the guidelines, students who refuse to wear a mask are given three warnings before they are moved to distance learning.

“It’s a rule of last resort to say okay, we haven’t been able to manage this in this situation. So for now, we’re going to move the student to a distance learning platform,” Forson said.

Forson also addressed other COVID-19 related issues discussed by the school board as students prepare for a return to classrooms on Monday.

Forson said the district is working to have between one and three permanent substitute teachers available at each school on the first day.

He also addressed the Monday ruling by a Florida judge that temporarily blocked Gov. Ron DeSantis and top education officials from forcing public schools to reopen brick-and-mortar classrooms amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, ruling that the state’s order “arbitrarily disregards safety.”

“The first part of that is it doesn’t change our plans for next week and opening and that we’re prepared, we believe we have the right model for where we are,” Forson said. “It really is just kind of a wait and see kind of situation. It’s litigation, and whatever direction it takes will certainly drive us and the way we will respond to that, if it changes in some way and offers additional options, then when that time is right, we’ll certainly look at that.”

About the Authors:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.

Digital reporter who has lived in Jacksonville for more than 25 years and focuses on important local issues like education and the environment.