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Focus shifts to testing after rules change for asymptomatic students in school

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Students return to classrooms in Palm Beach County on Sept. 21, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic. (Palm Beach County School District)

All five school districts in our viewing area will let all asymptomatic students back to class, regardless if they’ve had a close contact or are vaccinated.

It’s following new emergency rules, signed by Florida’s Surgeon General on Wednesday, his first full day on the job.

Following another raucous school board meeting, the Palm Beach County School Board opted to follow the state in this case: students who have had a close contact with someone Covid positive can stay in class as long as they’re not sick.

Two board members, Debora Robinson, the only medical doctor on the dais, and Alexandria Ayala voted to defy the state.

CBS12 News asked Ayala, “You were obviously on the other side of this, why?”

“There is really no point at which it makes sense to me as a board member who has prioritized the safety and wellbeing of children in classrooms who are mostly unvaccinated where the policy released by the Surgeon General is in accordance with what I have been implementing in schools."

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The emergency rule will get more kids back to school. Superintendent Mike Burke said last week too many kids were missing valuable time in the classroom because of the old rule.

“The unintended consequences now our students are missing out on a lot of instructional time and falling behind,” he said.

He had floated the idea of ‘test-to-stay,’ something just a handful of districts do in the country: a close contact with someone who has Covid, would require daily rapid testing before school.

Wednesday, the board expanded testing. Ayala said it’s possible they adopt test-to-stay at some point, adding testing is more important now with the new rules.

“We are trying to ramp testing to keep students and classrooms safe. Without knowing everybody’s status with this virus, it is really risky and dangerous and frankly unacceptable to put children around one another without knowing if they’re spreading the virus.

The school district sent out a letter touting the new rules. The key point is it is up to the child’s parent, only if they quarantine, as long as they don’t have symptoms.

LETTER TO PARENTS

Hello Parents and Legal Guardians,

While the District’s facial covering mandate remains in place, and principals are under direction to uphold Board Policy, there is a COVID related update about which you are being notified.

The District would like to make you aware of a new Emergency Rule, signed by Florida’s Surgeon General, that changes the protocol for students who are exposed to a positive COVID-19 case, but are not displaying symptoms of the virus themselves.

Emergency Rule 64DER21-15, Protocols for Controlling COVID-19 in School Settings, mandates that parents/guardians of healthy children identified as being exposed to COVID-19 while on District property, but not showing any symptoms of the virus, now have options regarding whether to keep the student home or continue to have their child attend school and all school activities including athletics.

The Rule defines direct contact as “cumulative exposure for at least 15 minutes, within 6 feet.”

The District and the Florida Department of Health will continue to conduct contact tracing, and will notify parents and guardians when a student has direct contact with an individual who is positive for COVID-19.

At that point the parent/guardian will have the following options:

1. Allow the student to attend school, school-sponsored activities, or be on school property, without restrictions or disparate treatment, so long as the student remains asymptomatic: or

2. Quarantine the student for a period of time not to exceed seven days from the date of last direct contact with an individual who is positive for COVID-19.

(b) If a student becomes symptomatic, following direct contact with an individual who has tested positive for COVID-19, or tests positive for COVID-19, the procedures set forth for symptomatic or COVID-19 positive shall apply.

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