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Manatee County School District closes several classrooms due to new covid rules

Bradenton Herald logo Bradenton Herald 8/31/2021 Giuseppe Sabella, The Bradenton Herald

Aug. 30—MANATEE — COVID-19 has shut down half a dozen Manatee County classrooms after the school district launched a new safety measure to slow rising case numbers.

Local public schools reported 93 positive cases among staff and students on Friday, bringing the total case count to 1,557 for the last three weeks.

And the number of cases this school year, which began Aug. 10, has already surpassed the number reported last year, when the district counted 1,119 cases over two semesters.

The recent spike in COVID-19 cases — a trend seen throughout Florida — has forced the Manatee School District and the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County to come up with a plan.

As a result, Manatee County public schools rolled out a new measure last Tuesday.

Schools will now shut down a classroom when at least three COVID-19 cases are found in the room during a single day or two consecutive days. Students then go into quarantine and return after about one week, assuming they have no symptoms.

According to data provided by Kevin Chapman, the executive director of administration for Manatee schools, at least six campuses had to shut down a classroom between Tuesday and Friday:

— Tillman Elementary School.

— Willis Elementary School.

— Williams Elementary School.

— Rogers Garden-Bullock Elementary School.

— McNeal Elementary School.

— Mills Elementary School.

During the quarantine, students have options to keep up with their schoolwork at home, according to an agreement between the school district and the teachers union.

That agreement says teachers can post work in Schoology, an online platform, or they can send work to students using email or in-person pickups. Teachers can also go virtual and host a live class, especially when the entire classroom is shut down and using the same platform.

The parent of a child at Willis Elementary School recently shared examples of at-home schoolwork with the Bradenton Herald. In that case, individual students were sent home — not the entire classroom.

Their fourth-grade teacher provided educational YouTube videos, worksheets, writing prompts and other assignments to the students in quarantine.

One of the assignments focused on essay writing: "At home, you can have your child pick a topic such as gum-chewing in school, wearing uniforms, requiring masks, etc. They can then choose a side and write a paragraph or two with their reasons. If they struggle with this, have them write a letter to me about being at home."

Students throughout Manatee County received similar messages over the last several weeks.

Even before the new safety measure went into effect, leading to the shutdown of entire classrooms, hundreds of individual students and employees went into quarantine for a COVID-19 exposure.

Since it began reporting quarantine numbers on Aug. 23, the school district has counted at least 2,209 exposures and quarantines.

And of the 1,557 positive COVID-19 cases reported since the start of classes, the vast majority — nearly 1,340 cases — are among students.

The new rule, which sets criteria for a classroom shutdown, is the latest measure to combat COVID and, hopefully, to keep schools open through the year.

Local schools have also urged students and employees to stay home when they feel sick. And shortly after the start of school, as Covid flooded into local schools, the district released a statement that strongly encouraged mask-wearing and vaccinations.

As of Monday, the School Board maintained a mask policy with opt-out clauses for students and employees — meaning masks are voluntary, in effect.

To see a list of COVID-19 cases at each school, along with the daily number of quarantines, visit the school district's online dashboard at manateeschools.net/covidDB.

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