South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Canwe trust theCOVID-19 dashboards?

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Have a question about South Florida schools and COVID-19? Sun Sentinel reporter Lois Solomon will find the answer. Submit your question at SunSentine­l.com/ AskLois.

“As a teacher I followthe COVID dashboard for schools near where I teach. Iwant to understand howNovaDwi­ght D. Eisenhower Elementary inDaviewen­t fromthree confirmed cases to one. Itwas even documented in the paper thatNova Eisenhower had three cases. Howcanwe trust the dashboard if numbers seem to change randomly?”— ABroward teacher

The MiamiHeral­d did report on Oct. 13 that therewere three cases atNova Eisenhower, which at the time had the highest number of positive employee cases.

But the school district pointed out to me that the dashboard, which lists every school in the district and howmany cases each has, tallies cases reported since Oct. 9, when school buildings reopened. The district says the Nova Eisenhower stafferswe­re infected before Oct. 9 and thus are not among the dashboard cases.

Here’s howthe district explained cases at the school:

“FromOct. 1 toNov. 30, there have been 5 employee positive cases. Breakdown as follows:

Prior to the start of face-toface learning ( 10⁄9), therewere 3 cases.

Since the start of face-to-face learning ( 10⁄9), there have been 2 additional cases, dated 10⁄24 and

1½5.”

We all have come to depend on the dashboard to understand

howCOVID-19 is affecting our schools. Checking it every day is not useful, though: The district says it updates the dashboard just twice aweek, on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Can students opt out of camera rule?

“My child has extremeanx­iety about being on camera during her classes (she is in high school). Are there any options for her nowthat Broward schools are making this a requiremen­t? Letme knowwhoI can talk to about this in the school system.”— M.S., Weston

When I first heard about this new policy, it sounded really strict. The School Board decided last month that starting thisweek, all students learning remotely had to keep their cameras on so their teachers could see them. Otherwise, they would be marked absent.

But it looks like there’s some wiggle roomfor students with personal issues. The policy says: “Teachers should be flexible and consider any extenuatin­g circumstan­ces of individual students who may be unable to turn on a camera. Teachers may consider other evidence of attendance for individual cases.”

So Iwould talk to your child’s teachers and principal to see if they’re willing towork with you on this. Although many of us have gotten used to our computer cameras, I can see how it could be tough on vulnerable teens.

Are schools supersprea­der sites?

“I read your reply regarding schools closing after Thanksgivi­ng. According to thenewest data presented onCNN: Initial school datawasbas­edonplaces like SouthKorea withmuch more compliance and lower infection rates. InFlorida, there isnostatem­ask mandate. In addition, schools (especially high schools) are absolutely super spreader sites. Holiday gatherings all over the country will exacerbate the situation. We’ll see the grim results in Decemberan­d January. Please research the latest informatio­n before making absolute statements like ’schools appear to be relatively safe.’ ”— TerriCohen, CoconutCre­ek

Terri Cohenwas objecting to a line I wrote in reply to a question about whether schools might close again. Iwrote: “Schools appear to be relatively safe and have not become super-spreader sites, thanks to mask mandates and not-crowded classrooms.”

I have to say I stand by that sentence. There have been more than 2,000 school-related COVID-19 cases since South Florida schools reopened this fall, but most of thosewere contracted off campus and didn’t spread on campus, according to health and school officials in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

It’s true that so far, the schools with the most cases in South Florida have been high schools. Studies all over theworld are showing higher infection rates fromhigh school classrooms, but these cases likely stemfromac­tivities outside school, Dr. DavidRubin of the University ofPennsylv­ania told theNewYork­Times.

“Most of the transmissi­on, when we see it, is occurring in carpools, during travel leagues, maybe in a locker room, or parties andgatheri­ngs that people haveonthew­eekend,” he said.

Health experts are predicting a post-Thanksgivi­ng surge of infection, andmost likely schools will be affected too, since they mirror what’s goingonin the outside world. But children, especially if they’re inelementa­ry school and wearingmas­ks, as they’re required to in South Florida, have not been the ones drivingupt­ransmissio­n rates.

Yes, virtual school is an option in January

“Asoftoday(Monday), isit expectedth­attheonlin­eschooling­optionwill­continueat­least tillspring­break, oranychanc­e ofcancelli­ngthatstar­tingJan. 11?”— JavierFuxm­an, Pembroke Pines

Such a timely question, because Gov. RonDeSanti­smadeit official onMonday: Thevirtual school option is a go for next semester.

Manyparent­s fearedthe state order allowing online schooling for the current semesterwo­uld notbe renewed in part because DeSantis hadsaid several timeshe wantedmore students learning in school buildings. He’s convinced a traditiona­l classroomi­s the best academic option andalso better for kids’ mental health needs.

But South Florida families havemadeit clear theywant to continue remotelear­ning. InPalm Beach County, 60percent are choosing to learn fromhome; in Broward, it’s 83 percent.

DeSantis stuck in a caveat inhis Mondayanno­uncement. Schools will be required to notify parents if their child is doing poorly in online learning, and those children will be required to start attending school in person unless the parents opt out.

He again made it clear he favors face-to-face instructio­n.

“Virtual learning is just not the same as being in person,” he said.

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