Dr. O on Ease of COVID Restrictions
By James Grossmann
During the 2020 to 2021 school year, high schools were faced with the problem of how to teach during the COVID-19 pandemic. With a risk of the pandemic spreading through the school faculty and students, several measures were put in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19. In the previous school year, St. Johns County School District (SJCSD) schools offered a hybrid school year with both brick and mortar and virtual learning, with students able to choose which one they prefer. This year, the only choices for students are full time brick and mortar and full time Florida Virtual School (FLVS) education.
On July 30, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued Executive Order 21-175, prohibiting schools from implementing a face mask mandate. In this order, DeSantis claimed that “despite recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) ‘guidance,’ forcing students to wear masks lacks a well-grounded scientific justification.” As a result of this order, SJCSD cannot require students to wear a face mask at any time during this school year, forcing a change in strategy for combatting the spread of COVID-19. According to the SJCSD 2021-2022 Health and Safety Proposed Protocols, there are numerous modifications to how the pandemic is being handled. “Face masks will be optional in school and on SJCSD transportation. Temperature checks will no longer be a daily routine when students, staff, or visitors arrive on school.” Later, however, Tim Forson, the superintendent of SJCSD, announced on Aug. 24 that SJCSD school faculty, staff, and visitors must wear face masks for 30 days.
Despite these requirements being changed, SJCSD still has restrictions in place to combat the spread of the pandemic. According to SJCSD’s Student Quarantine FAQ page, if a student tests positive for COVID-19 or is in close contact with someone who has tested positive for over 15 minutes, they must quarantine and stay home for the next seven days. If the quarantined student is asymptomatic, they may return on the eighth day after their initial contact date. If the student receives a test for COVID-19 that comes back negative on day five or later from the contact date, the student may return to school immediately. If the student has been fully vaccinated for over two weeks or has already tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 90 days, they do not need to quarantine at all if they do not test positive and are asymptomatic. Students who are quarantined will need to keep up with schoolwork through online resources. For the school week of Sept. 7 to Sept. 10, there were five students who have tested positive on Sept. 7, 4 on Sept. 8, 5 on Sept. 9, and 7 on Sept. 10. Comparing these numbers to last year, there is not a noticeable change, with two students testing positive on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, then four on Dec. 2. For the entire school district, there were 688 students testing positive on Sept. 7, 709 on Sept. 8, 686 on Sept. 9, and 633 on Sept. 10. This is a noticeable increase compared to numbers last year, with 68 students testing positive on Nov. 30, 80 on Dec. 1, and 92 on Dec. 2.
“As far as I know, there’s no redline or specific cut off for us to need to quarantine the whole school.”
With these restrictions in place, SJCSD faculty is trying to limit the spread of the pandemic while offering education as close to normal as they can. However, some are worried that the lack of a face mask requirement may lead to increased amounts of students testing positive within PVHS. Sophomore, Jasraj Kaeley does not agree with the lack of a face mask mandate. “I personally believe they should be mandated so that we can get rid of this pandemic and go back to normal. It’s not like we will die by wearing masks. In fact, without wearing them, we have a higher chance of contracting the virus.”
Fred Oberkehr, the principal of PVHS, offered his own opinion on the COVID-19 matters. “As far as I know, there’s no redline or specific cut off for us to need to quarantine the whole school. The Department of Health is keeping track of the numbers, and they’re in charge of those decisions,” which could potentially mean that if the numbers of COVID-19 positive students at PVHS increases drastically, the district may resume virtual learning. In addition to this, the principal claims the current numbers are not worthy of worrying over. “I don’t know if the numbers will change any further…As of now, they’re fairly consistent with last year.” Dr. Oberkehr ended his comments with his opinion on if SJCSD could’ve been more prepared for this pandemic. “This pandemic has been tragic, and looking in hindsight I really don’t know if we could’ve been more prepared for it. We can see the impact this has had on our community and I don’t know if we could’ve changed anything to help combat this pandemic.”
The main issue many are conflicted on is how students will manage to keep up with school work if they are quarantined, and how this pandemic will affect the education at PVHS. PVHS is trying their best to offer all resources for students online. While students may be concerned or worried, SJCSD is doing their best to provide for students during these confusing times.