School entrance sign. Photo, CD Davidson-Hiers
As the second school year of COVID-19 continues, Florida’s statewide teacher union is chronicling deaths, classroom closures, the number of students and staff testing positive and other data that provides a grim yet still incomplete look at how the pandemic is impacting schools.
The Florida Education Association has updated its “Safe Schools Report” for the 2021-22 school year, posting a list so far of 34 educators or other school personnel who the union designated as COVID-19 related deaths. The union used obituaries and news sources to determine the deaths, starting from July 2021. And the data updates throughout the day.
Those who died were teachers, bus drivers, teacher assistants, custodians, maintenance workers, an assistant principal and other vital school personnel, according to the FEA. People can go on the FEA’s website to see the names of those who died, though some links are no longer in place.
The report was last updated Wednesday and it may be incomplete. The union also noted that five Florida children have died from COVID-19 since July, 2021, but provided no further details.
There is some data posted from the state Department of Health on the FEA’s Safe Schools Report, such as the 66,790 Florida children under the age of 16 who have tested positive for COVID-19 since Aug. 1,
The FEA also is looking at local school district COVID-19 dashboards, where some school districts can inform families about the COVID situations going on in their schools.
So for example, the FEA reports that the data from the local district dashboards show that there have been at least 31,355 confirmed PreK-12 students and staff who have tested positive for COVID since Aug. 1.
However, the FEA claims that the number is “significantly higher” because “roughly two-thirds of school districts do not have publicly available dashboards.”
Referring to district dashboards again, the FEA notes that there have been 56,493 confirmed quarantines of staff and students since Aug. 1. Again, the FEA notes that the number of quarantined students and staff is “significantly higher” because most districts do not provide this data on its own.
There have been 20 campus closings and entire classrooms that had to be quarantined due to COVID exposure within schools, the report states. The FEA pulled from local news articles on the matter.
In comparison to last academic year, when the COVID pandemic was still relatively new and the Florida school system was figuring out how to operate during the pandemic, there was more COVID data from state agencies. This school year, there is less official information coming from the DeSantis administration regarding how schools are handling COVID-19.
From September 2020 through May 2021, the Florida Department of Health released data on an almost weekly basis laying out how many students, teachers, staff and others had tested positive for COVID-19 related to both public and private schools. The data included a school-by-school list of cases for K-12 schools, colleges and universities.
The final count from the state data showed that there was more than 115,000 cases of COVID-19 related to Florida’s public and private K-12 schools during that time span, according to Phoenix analysis of the Department’s data.
But this year, such data is not available, meaning that families across the state must rely on other sources, such as the FEA’s Safe Schools Report or their own districts posting similar data, to determine how safe their public schools are.
The teacher union posted similar data for the 2020-21 school year.
Florida Phoenix reporter Laura Cassels contributed to this report.
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