Clay parent wants answers after student exposed to COVID-19 on first day of school

Clay County school district says a self-reported COVID-19 dashboard is being developed

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – An Oakleaf High School freshman told News4Jax her first day of classes went pretty smoothly.

She wore a mask for most of the day and followed the directional guidelines laid out in the hallways of the Orange Park school.

She didn’t realize until later that her first day inside the school would also likely be her last as a freshman.

When the student got home, her mother said she got a call from the Florida Department of Health saying her daughter was exposed to someone at school who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

“It was super frustrating for sure because it was my first day of school, and I was really looking forward to being able to enjoy my first year of high school, and it felt like it was all coming to an end because I had contact with someone who had COVID,” the student said Wednesday. “I didn’t know who it was or which class or where they were in the classroom or anything like that.”

The parent, who asked not to be identified, said she wants more information from the school district on the possible exposure, as well as how many cases are in the school and the district, so she can make a decision on whether or not to send her daughter back into the classroom.

“She’s upset and afraid to even go back to school at this point,” the parent said. “It was scary for us, and it was also upsetting because the school never contacted us.”

As of Thursday, the Clay County school district was the only large Jacksonville-area school district not publicly disclosing COVID-19 data for students.

The Duval County school district has a school-by-school breakdown of COVID-19 cases. St. Johns County doesn’t break down reported cases by each school but updates a dashboard weekly. The Nassau County School District is posting reported cases to its website.

When asked about the number of cases within the district, a Clay County spokeswoman last week said the district does not keep information regarding positive cases in its schools. But on Thursday, the district told News4Jax a weekly COVID-19 report is in development.

“However, this would be self-reported numbers as the Florida Department of Health has stated that school COVID-19 results should remain confidential,” Nicole Young, Clay County District Schools' coordinator of communications, said in an emailed statement Thursday. “The District understands the Florida Department of Health will be launching a dashboard soon that identifies positive cases within school districts.”

The state’s dashboard could provide a school-by-school breakdown, Young said, but the school district only plans to release district-wide case numbers.

The district added that the Florida Department of Health of Clay County conducts all contact tracing and tracks all positive cases within the county, adding that the public can view the latest cases in Clay County of school-aged children by visiting the state’s COVID-19 dashboard and clicking, “Case monitoring and PUI information on the latest COVID-19 Report.”

According to the report referenced, a total of 859 Clay County residents 24 years of age and under have reported positive tests to the state. That includes seven new cases involving people between the ages of 15 and 24 and one person between the ages of 5 and 14 that were reported Thursday.

But right now, it’s unclear when the state Department of Health and the school district will create that public dashboard, so parents and students in Clay County are left to wonder.

The Oakleaf freshman in quarantine told News4Jax she plans to remain in online learning moving forward.

“I don’t even feel comfortable even thinking about going back to school this year," she said.

Her mother, who said she understands the need for some privacy, said the district needs to release all coronavirus data it can as soon as possible.

“As parents, and especially for those parents who are sending their kids to school, they should be aware, as well as the rest of us should be aware of the numbers in the people who have been affected with COVID,” the parent added.

The Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teachers union, on Thursday, released a 30-second commercial saying that Florida’s parents and communities deserve transparently when it comes to COVID-19 in public schools. The FEA claims that “government officials have made repeated attempts to stand in the way of the full truth about risks to students and educators.”

The FEA is likely referencing a story from the Gannett USA Today Network that found that health directors were told to keep quiet as Florida leaders pressed to reopen classrooms.

“The governor and the education commissioner have been pressuring school districts and health departments to keep them from releasing relevant and important information about coronavirus in our schools,” said FEA President Andrew Spar. “Like any parent, I have a right to know what is happening in my child’s school.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, along with state health and education officials, addressed the state’s public disclosure of coronavirus data in Florida schools during a morning education roundtable event last week in Tallahassee.

DeSantis said he wants to differentiate between asymptomatic and symptomatic COVID-19 students when the state finally releases a breakdown of the virus in schools.

State Surgeon Gen. Scott Rivkees said last week that a school-specific report is in development.

“We’re trying to put together what is the best report that actually truly captures what the incidence of cases are in the state as related to schools,” Rivkees said.

Rivkees said a draft report that was accidentally published last month — and then unpublished — still needed modifications.

About the Author:

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