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Monday, May 10, 2021

As COVID-19 cases rise, the public school district prepares to continue digital learning

Since the start of the school year, over 350 student and staff members tested positive for COVID-19

Alachua County Public Schools can continue offering digital learning in the spring, according to a state emergency order enacted this week.

The Florida Department of Education announced the continuation of online learning in a Monday emergency order. ACPS now has until Dec.15 to submit an updated learning plan to the state that includes protocol for addressing virtual and hybrid students who might be falling behind. 

About 60% of ACPS students are currently in brick-and-mortar classes, with an increase in overall enrollment since August. About 70% of Florida students are attending in-person classes, said director of student assignment and zoning Kim Neal. 

The district’s Epidemic/Pandemic Response Team met for the first time Thursday to discuss the update and other COVID-19-related policies, such as enrollment data and case information. This task force was officially formed in October after the school board approved it.

At the task force meeting, Paul Myers, director at the county health department, noted that 18 of 45 schools had positive cases since reopening. Sports teams have been the cause of some outbreaks, Myers said. Though out of 77 fall sports teams, only four had outbreaks, he added. He said the outbreaks at Buchholz, Gainesville, Newberry and Santa Fe were mainly due to ancillary aspects of football, such as time on the bus or in the locker room for away games. 

About 1,600 exposures to the virus occurred in schools, he said. 

There has been no secondary transmission in schools, meaning no students spread the virus in schools, he said. Alachua County also has the lowest pediatric COVID-19 rate in the state for those 18 and under. People in the school system who have been exposed to the virus must quarantine for at least nine days. 

“It’s just miraculous what Alachua County Public Schools have been able to do,” he said.

There isn’t currently a limit on class sizes, curriculum executive director Jennifer Wise said. Students aren’t tested for COVID-19 before switching from virtual to in-person learning. Daily screenings, such as temperature checks, continue to occur. 

As of Friday evening, there are 58 active COVID-19 cases, 17 of which are staff cases, according to the school district’s COVID-19 dashboard

High schools have the most active cases this week, with 20 student and dour staff positives, according to the dashboard. Gainesville High has seven student cases. Buchholz has seven student cases and one staff case. Eastside has two students and one staff member who tested positive. Newberry High has six student cases and one staff case. One staff member at Santa Fe tested positive.

A. Quinn Jones Center has three staff positives, and there are three staff cases in district departments. 

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Middle schools have nine active student cases and one staff case at Westwood Middle. There are four student positives at Mebane, two at Hawthorne and one each at Kanapaha, Oak View and Westwood.

In elementary schools, there are 18 active cases. There’s one student case at Alachua, Archer, Foster, Hidden Oak, Newberry, Norton, Parker and Williams Elementaries. There are two student cases each at Chiles and Glen Springs. There are six total staff positives, one each at Meadowbrook, Newberry, Norton, Shell, Terwilliger and Wiles Elementaries.

A total of 98 people are in quarantine this week. 

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