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Public schools ease quarantine and facemask rules for students

STORY BY GEORGE ANDREASSI (Week of September 30, 2021)

Just a couple of Indian River County public school students remained quarantined Monday (Sept. 27) for exposure to a COVID-19 patient under new state rules that went into effect last week.

It’s now up to parents to decide whether to send their virus-exposed children to school, as long as the youngsters are not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, School Superintendent David Moore said last Friday.

The number of students quarantined declined to two as of Monday (Sept. 27), compared to a high of 87 on Sept. 14, school district records show.

There were 27 students being quarantined here on Sept. 22 when the new Florida Department of Health rules regarding quarantining went into effect.

“We called those 27 students, saying, ‘Hey parents, if you’re good and they’re not showing symptoms, feel free to send them back to school,’” Moore said.

Under the new rules, a parent will be notified if their child came in close contact with a COVID-19 patient and offered the option of sending their child to school, or keeping them home, Moore said.

“It is a choice being given to parents,” Moore said.

In the past, state Health Department officials in Indian River County decided which students and staff members needed to quarantine for exposure to a COVID-19 patient.

A total of 1,345 students have been quarantined for exposure to someone diagnosed with the virus since the school year started Aug. 10, school district records show.

The DeSantis administration had already given each parent the right to determine whether their child wears a facial covering to school, eliminating the district’s ability to require a doctor’s note for students to opt out.

Now a parent’s note will be enough to exempt a student from the facemask mandate that goes into effect when 4 percent or more of the school’s pupils are diagnosed with COVID-19.

All 22 public schools were at 4 percent or less on Sept. 24, Moore said.

Previously, a doctor’s note had been required to opt out of the mandatory facemask requirement the district established for schools where 5 percent or more of the population had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The easing of the facemask and quarantining rules came as cases of COVID-19 dropped in the public schools, district records show.

The school district’s COVID-19 Dashboard reported 49 students were diagnosed with the virus during the week of Sept. 20 through Sept. 26, a decline of about 57 percent compared to the previous week and 70 percent compared to Sept. 6 through Sept. 12.

There were also eight staff members out sick with COVID-19 last week, a decline of 11 percent compared to the previous week and 49 percent compared to Sept. 6 through Sept. 12.

Moore said he believes the district is faring well a month after weathering a COVID-19 outbreak that caused the temporary closing of Beachland and Treasure Coast elementary schools.

“You look across our community as it relates to COVID, we are on a downward trend,” Moore said.

The face mask controversy should be put to rest by the new state rules, Moore said.

Dozens of parents attended School Board meetings during the last two years to complain about the district’s mandatory facemask policy and four filed an unsuccessful lawsuit challenging it.

“We think the masks are in a really good place,” Moore said. “We’re looking forward to really just having, hopefully, God willing, minimal disruption, or conversation, or energy around our face covering requirements.”