Lee County school district implements safety protocols due to rising COVID-19 cases

Published: August 25, 2021 2:41 PM EDT
Updated: August 27, 2021 10:04 AM EDT

The Lee County school district is bringing back some of last year’s safety protocols in order to deal with the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

The school district will avoid large gatherings including, carnivals, festivals and dances. The district will also begin its grab and go breakfast and lunch in order to avoid large crowds from gathering.

Instead of eating in the cafeteria, students can eat in other areas of the school in order to allow for spacing.

The district announced the changes during a Facebook Live event meant to be more transparent with parents concerned about COVID-19 in the school district.

The changes will be reviewed on Sept. 10, which is the same day the school district will review their mask opt-out system. Once the positivity rate is on the downturn, the school district will revisit these changes.

The county currently has a 27.9% positivity rate and has experienced 6,000 COVID-19 incidents during the first two weeks of school, which is a much higher increase compared to last year when they had 10,000 COVID-19 incidents during four months.

Other changes include:

  • One-way hallways and stairwells
  • Wiping down of secondary classroom desks before changes
  • Increasing the number of buses for field trips and athletic travel to provide more space
  • District-sponsored field trips only with school staff chaperoning
  • Minimize the number of students in the locker room to allow for social distancing
  • Athletic teams will not be able to use the locker room during halftime
  • Meetings involving large groups will be held outdoors or in large indoor spaces
  • No visitors or volunteers on campus during school hours

The school district also said it planned to test students suspected of having COVID-19 while in school. This could start by the end of this week or the beginning of next week. A district spokesman said the testing will be handled by the Department of Health. The plan is to offer rapid testing.

“This is all about trying to keep our kids safe every day, and still allow learning to take place in our community,” said Lee County interim Superintendent Ken Savage.

About 1,600 people watched Facebook Live and flooded the interim superintendent with hundreds of questions.

Angela Moniz, a Lee County parent, said she doesn’t think the school district was as transparent as they could be during the chat.

I was amazed to see how many people logged into that Facebook Live. And the number of comments and frustrated parents,” Moniz said. “I don’t think that there is transparency to the number of children that are out.”

Most parents want the school district to track COVID-19 cases in the classroom.

“I do think it is the parent’s right to know just how many cases are around their child every day. I think that is one of our parental rights,” said Christine Allen, also a Lee County parent. 

Savage said by the end of the week, the school district will have a dashboard that includes that information.

Allen’s son is at home with COVID-19 now. She said it would have been helpful to have those numbers sooner.

“Had I known the numbers, I probably would have pulled my kid earlier,” Allen said. “I feel like, we didn’t know, I didn’t know how bad it really was. Now I’m hearing classes aren’t full and teachers are out and whole school buses are being quarantined.”

Allen’s 10-year-old son went back to school with a mask and instructions to keep it on but despite her best efforts, he needed a COVID test just one week into the school year.

“He started feeling pretty icky. So I went and got him the test and he tested positive,” Allen said.

She is happy to hear the school district will be able to provide testing through the Florida Department of Health in Lee County. The process, according to a school spokesman, is that if a student presents symptoms they will be sent to an isolation room and a parent will be notified. The parent will be offered the opportunity to have their child tested at school. If they choose to have their student tested, the parent has to go to the school to be present for the test. The Department of Health mobile testing team will respond to the school to administer the test after the parent is there and has consented. The process is voluntary.

“It is nice to have it so accessible. I mean, I went out and purchased home tests and a lot of parents couldn’t, you know, I mean, it is a cost. So I do I like that idea,” Allen said.

The parent has to be present with the child for them to get tested.

Moniz said she just hopes the tests are accurate.

“Kids are getting sick. They’re going to the pediatrician. They’re getting tested. It’s too early, you know…they’re not five days into their symptoms yet and so they’re getting a negative test, they’re going back into the school and then ending up eventually positive,” Moniz said.

But Allen said this will be an improvement to how it’s done now.

“I think it’s a very good way to, you know, get the information out faster,” Allen said.

The district said it’s hired 13 more staff members to help report positive cases faster.

As for the mask mandate, Savage said it will remain as-is, with an opt-out option.

Many also wanted to know if Lee Home Connect would be making a return. It won’t.

Lee County interim Superintendent Ken Savage said there is a plan in the works to better connect teachers and students out of school because of the quarantine. It is expected to come by Sept. 7.

“I really do enforce the policies that are there and I am bound to enforce the law as well.  However, when there’s a law in question, that is how we trust our judicial process as well as rely on the legal arguments that other districts are making,”  Savage said.

Watch the Facebook Live below.

The live event will also be available on the District’s YouTube page.