JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Some school districts across Florida are making changes after the state’s newly appointed surgeon general on Wednesday signed new protocols allowing parents to decide whether their children should quarantine or stay in school if they are asymptomatic after being exposed to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.
In terms of quarantine, Dr. Joseph Ladapo eliminated previous mandates requiring students to quarantine for at least four days off campus if they’ve been exposed. Under the new guidelines, students who have been exposed can continue going to campus, “without restrictions or disparate treatment,” provided they are asymptomatic. They can also quarantine, but no longer than seven days, provided they do not get sick.
The decision tree that has set guidelines on when and how to quarantine an exposed student has been pared down. The new process leaves the process the same for positive or symptomatic students but adds a new section for those without symptoms. They’re not required to quarantine, with the governor claiming it’s to protect parental rights.
“The parent always has the right to make that to have their kids home if they think that’s in the best interest of the student and the family, 100%, we would not want to intrude on that,” DeSantis said. “But, if a parent has a healthy child, that child has a right to be in school.”
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For doctors like Dr. Sunil Joshi, president of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation, the concern isn’t only for the children who may catch and spread the coronavirus without symptoms but also with those they spread it to at home.
“If you think about a classroom size, you know, a typical classroom size is between 20 and 25. Kids, that one person has the ability to spread it to between eight and nine other children. But you can imagine how quickly people are going to get infected,” Joshi said.
Elizabeth Wittstadt, who heads a local chapter of the Moms for Liberty organization, applauds the state’s move.
“We appreciate that they recognize the time that the children have lost in school is unacceptable. Many healthy children have been kept at home when they could be at school and tracking that they were not getting sick,” Wittstadt said.
In Northeast Florida, the school districts in Duval, Nassau, Alachua and Union counties said they have not altered their quarantine protocol for students yet, with most saying they’re waiting for something more concrete from the health department. Meanwhile, the districts in St. Johns, Clay, Bradford and Putnam counties have gone ahead and adopted the new rule.
The new guidelines signed by Ladapo also tweaked the state’s prohibition against school mask mandates, prompting an administrative law judge to dismiss a lawsuit against the old rule that had been filed by various school boards. So far, no area districts have changed their course on mask rules though.
Alachua County Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon told News4Jax that the Florida Department of Education sent a memo to the school district, demanding that the district responds by 5 p.m. with how it plans to come into compliance with the new rule.
Here’s what each of those districts is saying about the state’s new quarantine policy:
Duval County Public Schools
“There are no immediate changes to our current COVID-19 protocols. Leadership of the Florida Department of Health—Duval has advised us that they are awaiting guidance from the state Department of Health. We will work closely with our local Department of Health team and the City of Jacksonville’s Office of General Counsel to determine if this rule has any impact on the district’s procedures or operations. If there are changes, we will inform our families and the media at the appropriate time.”
St. Johns County School District
“Based on (the Florida Department of Health’s) new ruling, you have a choice whether to quarantine your child or not, if they have no (COVID) symptoms.”
Clay County District Schools
“The District takes guidance from the state and will follow all guidelines related to COVID-19. Per the Department of Health - Clay, the attached decision tree from the Department of Education will be followed starting on Monday as they are currently revamping the letters that they send to parents regarding the new guidance.”
Nassau County School District
Waiting on specific directives from the Department of Health.
“This was unexpected. However, we’ll certainly comply with whatever rules the state puts in place.”
Bradford County School District
“Effective immediately, if your child has been identified as having been in close contact with a positive case, you will be notified by the local health department. If your child is not exhibiting any symptoms, you may choose to have your child remain in school. If your child is showing any signs of illness, then he/she will need to quarantine and could return to school after 7 days, if symptom-free.”
Alachua County Public Schools
“We will be reviewing the new rules and any notifications we receive from the State with our legal counsel and medical advisors. In the meantime, we will continue to follow the masking and quarantine policies currently in place in our schools.”
Putnam County School District
“We are working to update information on the PCSD COVID-19 Information page as quickly as possible. This rule will affect how we currently track and report data on the PCSD COVID-19 Dashboard.”
Union County Public Schools
No changes to the current policy as of Thursday.
Baker County School District
News4Jax reached out but has not heard back.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.