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700 teachers call out sick first day back in Orange schools, superintendent says

WESH Orlando logo WESH Orlando 1/5/2022
kids going to school © Provided by WESH Orlando kids going to school

Tens of thousands of Orange County School Students returned to class Tuesday after winter break.

They've been out of school since mid-December and since then, the school district has seen a 2,000% increase in COVID-19 cases among students.

Tuesday, Superintendent Barbara Jenkins said at a news conference that 700 or 5% of the county’s teachers called in sick before the return to school Tuesday after the winter break.

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14% of Orange schools’ bus drivers called out sick too, Jenkins said, but not every case was confirmed to be COVID-19 related.

Monday, Orange County public schools sent out a message strongly encouraging all students to wear masks. The district cited the current surge in new COVID-19 cases.

By late Monday, Superintendent Barbara Jenkins went a step further making facemasks on campus mandatory for all adults. That includes teachers, support staff and even visitors.

One mom WESH 2 News spoke to was glad to hear the school district was taking fresh action in light of the highly contagious omicron variant.

"I think everybody should wear (masks), even the parents that drop off the kids. You should see how many people are not wearing the masks and I just worry about my kids at school cause they have asthma,” Jackie Hannen said.

The latest COVID-19 dashboard for Orange County Public Schools shows a huge spike in reported COVID-19 cases on Monday, the day before class resumed.

From Dec. 18 to Jan. 3, the cumulative total of cases was 309 among school district employees and 866 among students.

Video: Orange County reopens COVID-19 testing site as demand, cases surge (WESH Orlando)


Back on Dec. 17, the day before the winter break, there were only 38 students were listed on the dashboard as positive.

Orange County Public Schools said in tweet Monday that it would no longer be requiring doctor's notes to excuse students' absences.

"While we are not encouraging parents to do so, if you choose to keep your child home, it will be excused if your child keeps up with their assignments. Reach out to the teacher for schoolwork," the school district wrote.

The number of new COVID cases reported on Tuesday will be posted by the school district by midnight Tuesday night.

Brevard Public Schools return to school Thursday

Brevard County is likely seeing the highest positive COVID-19 testing rate of the pandemic.

But the school board is standing by its current rule that masks are optional for everyone.

“We strongly suggest that adults and students wear masks, but it’s voluntary,” Russell Bruhn of Brevard Public Schools said.

The school board is also working to again supply students with take-home COVID-19 tests like earlier in the year. But there are not enough available yet to hand out.

While the school board there is aware that their counterpart in Orange County has mandated masks for adults on all school campuses. The Brevard voluntary mask measure is under constant evaluation.

And as part of that evaluation, they look at other county school boards, like Orange.

“To my knowledge, that’s the only in our bordering counties that has done that. That does not mean they’ll be the last. But they have a different situation over there and they are handling it the best they can," Bruhn said.

If the school board decides that the situation or conditions have worsened in Brevard, the next step will be to require adults to wear masks. And if it escalates, the board will consider extended the mandate to students.

But for any of that to happen, there would be an internal rule-making process and a public meeting on mask mandates which are known to be combative.

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