ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Heather Schatz, a parent of a St. Johns County student, wrote an essay Thursday to share her frustration with the lack of information she received after her son was exposed to the novel coronavirus at school.
Schatz, who works as a producer at News4Jax news partner WJCT, said her seventh-grader was sent home from Landrum Middle School in Ponte Vedra Beach on Wednesday after he came into close contact with a positive case.
“It’s the moment I had been dreading since we made the nearly impossible decision to send him back to Landrum Middle School, in person, exactly two weeks ago,” Schatz wrote.
The experience was a scary one for Schatz, who said she falls into the “high risk” group.
“Our son was exposed despite our best efforts to keep our family safe (e.g. wearing masks, distancing, limiting contact to our bubble) since March, not just because of my risk, but because I lost two former colleagues to COVID-19, one in her 30s who leaves behind a toddler,” she added.
Schatz said she received a call from a contact tracer with the Florida Department of Health a few hours after she picked her son up from school. The contact tracer shared some information, but she was still left with more questions than answers after school staff said a student who sat next to her son in class on Tuesday had tested positive that evening.
“When I asked if there was community spread in the school and how many cases there were in our school overall, he could not comment due to HIPAA regulations,” Schatz said.
Her concerns mirror those of other St. Johns County parents.
While the district has started publishing the number of district-wide coronavirus cases and quarantines once a week on Fridays, there is still no school-by-school breakdown for cases. In neighboring Duval County, the school district publishes a daily accounting of positive cases in each school. Other school districts, like those in Clay and Nassau counties, publish reports similar to those in St. Johns County.
A St. Johns County School District spokeswoman told WJCT it is asking the state health department for permission to publish school-specific numbers. (The district did not immediately respond to a News4Jax request for comment on Friday.)
Instead, Schatz had to do her own detective work by talking to other parents at the school. She found there may be more than one student in her son’s grade who tested positive.
Luckily, Schatz said, her son tested negative for the virus, but he will still need to be quarantined for two weeks and she said she will continue to monitor him for any symptoms.
“And what if this isn’t the last time? What if we send him back again in two weeks and it happens again?” Schatz said.
As of Friday, there are currently 32 St. Johns County students who reported positive tests, an increase of nine compared to last week’s report, according to the district. There are also 439 students and 29 staff being asked to quarantine after close contact with a case.