Fletcher High extends online learning after COVID-19 outbreak

The school first shifted students to virtual learning Oct. 15 after multiple cases were reported

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Fletcher High School students will continue learning virtually at least through Oct. 28 in response to a growing number of cases of COVID-19 at the school, administrators said Monday.

Principal James Ledford informed families about the school’s plans in a message to parents Monday, which comes five days after the school shifted students to online instruction in response to multiple positive tests. Ledford’s notice said the Florida Department of Health was aware of more than 30 cases as of Sunday.

Fletcher is the first of two public schools in Duval County to close its doors temporarily because of the virus. The second, Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, moved students to online instruction on Monday.

“Due to the high number of positive cases, it is difficult for the Department of Health to accurately identify all close contacts, but it is clear that the number of close contacts would exceed the district’s threshold requiring the school to isolate if more than 20 percent of the students are needing to quarantine,” the message said. “As a result, we will remain in online instruction through Duval HomeRoom through Oct. 28.”

The threshold Ledford mentioned counts all the students and staff going to Fletcher’s campus in person. In other words, roughly 320 people would need to be exposed to trigger a school-wide closure.

RELATED: Fletcher shifts to online instruction after multiple COVID-19 cases

Administrators expect to bring students back to campus for brick-and-mortar instruction beginning on Oct. 29. Until then, all extracurricular activities including athletic practices and competitions have been placed on hold.

Added Ledford: “I do want to remind you that while we are in Duval HomeRoom, we will continue to follow our normal bell schedule. Students should plan to be engaged online at 7:15 a.m. On behalf of the leadership, teachers and staff at Fletcher, we will continue to work to make the online experience the best it can be.”

Heather Seconder, the mother of two Fletcher students, said she’s fine with the decision announced Monday.

“It gives more time for everybody that’s either got it or had to quarantine -- time to, you know, hopefully not pass this around any longer and then everybody can go back to school and, you know, be well and healthy,” said Seconder, who added that the day-to-day classwork has actually gotten a little easier with all students on the same learning format again.

Before closing campus last week, Fletcher acknowledged it was dealing with roughly 16 reported cases of COVID-19. In response, administrators ordered the school to be cleaned and the health department began performing contact tracing to determine who might have been exposed to those infected with the virus.

Later, the school district and public health officials disclosed that the positive tests were linked to off-campus activities. Dr. Pauline Rolle, director of the Florida Department of Health in Duval County, said all of the cases were traced to a party, some smaller gatherings and transmission within families' households.

RELATED: DCPS links Fletcher’s COVID-19 outbreak to off-campus activities

“I’m not satisfied in that we are in a position that we had to close our school because of activity outside of the school,” Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene said. “I would be remiss if we didn’t reflect on this situation and demonstrate what happens when a community of students lets its guard down just for an evening.”

Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, which is dealing with its own rash of COVID-19 cases, is expected to keep students learning virtually at least through Wednesday as authorities work to track down the source of infections there.

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