Dept. of Public Health response on reopening schools

The mission of PTA’s everywhere is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. Alachua County Council of PTA’s (ACCPTA) represents 22 PTA units with over 3,000 members within the Alachua County community, with guidance from the state and national PTA organizations.

In accordance with PTA position statements as outlined below, ACCPTA’s goal is to ensure the health and safety of all children and school staff is highest priority in decisions related to reopening schools. We have been in close communication with the school district and have observed statements regarding the role of the Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Alachua County with regards to school opening procedures and decisions. With that in mind, we reached out to the DOH with the requests below.

Responses from the Department of Health (DOH) and Alachua County Public Schools on are noted below (in blue):

Publish a list of the advisors who are assisting the department with decisions regarding school opening, safety procedures and community spread levels.

DOH published the list of advisors on July 23, 2020. The following is an excerpt from the press release:

Dr. Kathleen Ryan, M.D.: Clinical Associate Professor in the UF College of Medicine, Pediatrics-Infectious Diseases, Dr. Glenn Morris, M.D.: Director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute and Professor, UF College of Medicine, Medicine-Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine, Dr. Mike Lauzardo, M.D.: Deputy Director, UF Emerging Pathogens Institute, and Associate Professor, UF College of Medicine, Medicine-Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine, have served as the local, core infectious disease experts that I have consulted since January of 2020,” Stated Paul D. Myers, Administrator of the ACHD. “With the opening of school, we have added additional pediatric and scientific expertise to the group and welcome Dr. Yana Banks, M.D.: Clinical Assistant Professor, UF College of Medicine, Pediatrics, Dr. Sarah McKune, MPH, Ph.D.: Assistant Professor, UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, Environmental and Global Health, and the Center for African Studies, and Dr. Eric Nelson, M.D., Ph.D.: Assistant Professor, UF College of Medicine, Pediatrics, and UF College of Public Health and Health Professions, Environmental and Global Health, and Emerging Pathogens Institute. Alachua County is fortunate to have world-class experts to help guide our community during this global pandemic.”

Conduct school-level health and safety assessments to inform individual decisions about how to minimize contact. Conduct regular check-ins throughout the year to ensure safety measures are being followed.

DOH Environmental Health has been working with the district facilities department since March to advise and demonstrate disinfecting techniques, and this will continue.

Provide specific, detailed information and examples about how contact tracing will work in case of a diagnosis, who will be impacted (how a contact will be defined), how long they will be quarantined, and how and when this will be communicated with families.

Contact tracing will work in a similar way as it has been working for other positive cases in the county. All positive labs are required to report to DOH within 24 hrs. When DOH receives the information, they contact the patient and ask them to isolate for 14 days. They then do contact tracing, starting in the household and then to significant contacts (defined as someone who was been less than 6 ft. from the person for more than 15 minutes). Significant contacts are quarantined for 14 days. 

The DOH will work closely with the schools to identify significant contacts. They plan to augment school health staff to assist with this, using money from the federal CARES Act. School administrators will speak with students and teachers to find out who significant contacts are. They will aim to do this as quickly as possible to facilitate communications and mitigate risks. They hope to isolate positive cases to minimize spread.  However, if there is more than one positive case in a class, they will quarantine all students in that class. When they are not sure, they will err on the side of safety.

The effectiveness of contract tracing relies on the quality of the information received. The DOH currently reaches 88% of the lab positive people they are aware of. They don’t achieve 100% due to missing phone numbers, bad addresses, etc.

Provide specific information about how community spread levels are determined in a manner that’s easily accessible by the community, including links to data sources that will be used. Include a timeline for when and how spread levels are communicated to the school community.

The following guidance from the CDC is used to by DOH determine community spread (see Table 1):

And tables 1 and 5 in the following:

The directive to close all schools will come from the Florida Surgeon General, and will be determined based on a substantial uncontrolled transmission in Alachua County.

The original draft ACPS reopening plan contained three categories for spread, however the Commissioner’s Emergency Order changed this. Now, there are two categories: school is open or closed. The safety strategies are the same no matter what the spread level is.

The superintendent could make the decision to close individual schools if the spread level is significant for that school or there aren’t enough teachers based on isolation.

Create a communication stream to allow parents, teachers, school staff and others in the community to submit questions and concerns about the health and safety measures being advised by the department. Incorporate community feedback into advice provided and actions taken that involve the safety of our school community.

The DOH noted that the school district could create this, and they would provide data.

Significantly increase the availability of COVID-related health screenings and testing for the school community, and expedite results when possible.

Many local pediatricians and UF pediatrics have rapid tests. The nasopharyngeal swabs have a 48 hour return time. The County is scaling up using CARES dollars to improve diagnostics by buying more tests.

Per the staff attorney, the district cannot require a student to take a COVID test, however if a student displays symptoms they will be sent home immediately.

If someone is a exposed, the incubation period is 2 – 14 days. They should not get tested until 14 days is up. An exposed child needs to be out for 14 days from the first exposure. They can return if fever free and symptom free for 72 hrs.

Public a list of metrics by which the county would advise or mandate that schools be closed due to increased community spread or spread within a specific school.

See #4 above.

PTA Position Statements related to safe school re-openings

Elements of Comprehensive Health Programs

National PTA believes that a comprehensive health program, encompassing health education, health services and healthy school environment includes the following components:

  • Policy and goals established by local school boards in partnership with parents, students, educators, community health care providers and others, and includes the development, implementation and evaluation of a comprehensive school health program.
  • Health Services that appropriately reflect the educational and community commitment to address identified health problems that limit students’ abilities to learn.
  • Healthy school environments that demonstrate care for physical facilities, stress the importance of positive mental health and emotional climates within the school setting, and ensure the physical safety of the students and staff.
  • School-site health promotion programs for faculty and staff that include wellness components, which will increase job satisfaction, morale and a healthy quality of life.
  • Integrated school and community health promotion efforts that acknowledge the shared responsibility for student health with the home, public and private health care systems, law enforcement and justice systems, government, environmental agencies, business, religious organizations, civic groups and the media.

National PTA believes that comprehensive school health programs are an essential link in the health education/health care chain. In order to fulfill the responsibility of offering educational opportunities to all children, we need to recognize and deal with their health needs as they impact our schools and communities.

Therefore, parents, schools, and communities are encouraged to work together in partnership to provide effective, comprehensive health programs and policies.

Safe and Supportive Schools

A founding principle of National PTA’s mission is to promote the safety and well-being of all children and youth. School safety is a critical priority for all parents, educators, students, and community members that cannot be taken for granted. Students and educators have a right to attend schools that are safe and conducive to learning and achievement, yet schools often experience critical incidents such as suicide, natural disasters, or a mass casualty event that have a devastating impact on students, parents, educators, and the community.

Family Engagement

  • Involve students, parents and families in the development, implementation and evaluation of all school safety plans, including emergency preparedness, crisis response, and threat assessment protocols, school discipline policies and procedures, and student health and wellness support services.
  • Conduct regular and timely communication with families about safety policies and procedures including school evacuation plans and reunification protocols.
    • School districts and schools must communicate clearly and regularly to all families regarding school safety matters in languages that are accessible to them. This includes two-way, meaningful communication on the types of safety drills conducted, what students and parents can expect for drills and in the event of an actual emergency, what physical and psychological safety measures are in place, and the role and responsibilities of any type of security personnel on school premises, if applicable.
  • Establish ongoing opportunities for students and parents to provide input on the school environment and climate.

School climate and student support services

  • Promote a positive school climate that encourages nurturing relationships, and mutual trust and respect among students, staff and families.
  • Distribute information on and connect students and families to appropriate integrated health and wellness services within the school and community.

Re-opening Schools for 2020/2021

National PTA understands that the reopening of our nation’s preK-12 schools during the COVID- 19 pandemic is vital to ensure the continuity of education, however it should not outweigh the safety and the mental and physical health of our students, educators, school employees and families. It is our association’s position that plans for reopening shall incorporate the best available science and the expertise of infectious disease doctors and health practitioners. Plans should also strictly follow the most up-to-date Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, including but not limited to reasonable social distancing, rigorous sanitizing processes and viral screening and testing protocols. National PTA believes that states and school districts must plan and align logistics, educational strategies and public health approaches into one coherent response. We recognize that there will not be a one-size fits all process for the reopening of schools.

Inclusive stakeholder engagement is essential for effective decision-making and implementation. Any decision to reopen schools must involve parents, families, students, educators, school employees, public health experts and community members in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the 2020-2021 school year. The presence of the parent and student voice and attention to unique family situations is critical to the successful reopening of schools. Effective stakeholder engagement must be inclusive, transparent, provide multiple opportunities for input and include meaningful, clear and concise communication. All information and protocols should be disseminated to parents, families, students, and communities, using current best practices for family and student engagement. Furthermore, all communications must be accessible to parents with disabilities and available in other languages.

Schools must be prepared to address the transition to back to school, the trauma of a pandemic and the many instructional issues, including the effects of learning loss and the digital divide.

Students will likely return to schools with serious gaps in their learning and retention and unique social-emotional needs. Schools must be prepared to identify indicators, such as symptoms of trauma, learning loss and/or retention and have the requisite funding and community partnerships to effectively support the student and their family as reopening occurs. School districts must ensure multiple modes of instruction and scheduling plans are developed in order to remediate and support students, wherever they are on the continuum. Close adherence to local and state academic standards is imperative as we begin the long, arduous and as yet unknown process of reopening our nation’s preK-12 schools.

National PTA strongly supports a robust federal investment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which in include investments in public health, public schools, universities, hospitals, and local and state governments. National PTA urges the federal and state governments to provide the funding necessary to ensure that when our schools reopen, they have the resources needed to do so as safely and successfully as possible. Many of our nation’s school districts are already working without the resources needed to provide an equitable education and critical supports to all students. The added strain of recovery from a worldwide pandemic will wreak havoc on all localities and will require significant, immediate and continuing support from federal and state funding. While our public schools have been woefully under-resourced, this next phase of “returning to school” is an opportunity to visualize what public education looks like in a post-pandemic era, to ensure every child can reach their fullest potential regardless of zip code.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: