OKEECHOBEE -- A week before the first day of school, the Okeechobee School District has laid out the health and safety guidelines for the 2021-22 school year.
Face masks are optional this year. The Okeechobee School District will have masks on hand if someone would like to voluntarily wear one at school or at a school event.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued an executive order on July 30 that would allow the state to withhold funds from schools that require students and teachers to wear face masks. Both the Broward and Gadsden County School Districts reversed their plan to require face masks in school for the upcoming year following the executive order.
Broward County had been leading the nation in covid hospitalizations recently. But in the executive order signed by Gov. DeSantis states that studies have shown that children are at a low risk of contracting a serious illness due to COVID-19 and do not play a significant role in the spread of the virus.
Okeechobee County has seen an uptick in cases in recent weeks. For the week of July 23-30, Okeechobee’s positivity rate of 19.4% was the highest rate out of Collier, Hendry, Glades, Highlands, Martin and Palm Beach. With only 40% of persons over age 12 vaccinated, Okeechobee County also has the lowest vaccination rate among those counties.
Temperature checks will no longer be required at Okeechobee schools. However, temperatures may be taken when visiting the school health clinic. Buses will transport students at full capacity. Hand sanitizer dispensers will be installed on every bus for students to use as they enter and exit. Buses will still utilize assigned seats, which will assist with contact tracing if needed.
Athletic participation is scheduled to return to pre-pandemic conditions. Face coverings will be optional for students and spectators. Events will be back to full capacity, although the online purchase of tickets will continue.
In the classroom seating charts will be used to assist with social distancing as well as contact tracing efforts in the event of a positive case. Social distancing will be encouraged to the greatest extent possible in schools and classrooms. If there is space, it will be utilized to socially distance. Deep cleaning will take place when there is a confirmed case of COVID-19. Air conditioning filters will be changed regularly.
The district will no longer transfer students to remote learning when self-isolating or quarantined as required by Department of Health. A student who tests positive or is quarantined by DOH, must remain home and access assignments as directed by the teacher.
Students who are identified as a close contact to a positive case must quarantine from school for a minimum of 14 days from the last date of contact unless they have been vaccinated. They cannot test out of quarantine. Meaning a negative test will not remove the quarantine period.
Fully vaccinated students and staff (as verified by the Okeechobee County Health Department) will not be required to quarantine if they are identified as a close contact as long as they do not develop symptoms. Students who have COVID-like symptoms should stay home. They may return when one of the following criteria is met:
Unvaccinated staff members who are identified as close contacts will not be excluded from work until they become symptomatic. While at work, the district says these staff members will adhere to social distancing guidelines and will be encouraged to wear a mask. Students and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 must isolate at home for a minimum of 10 days. They may return to school after 10 days if they are fever free for 24 hours without medication and symptoms are improving.
The district says that if your child or a family member in the home is awaiting a COVID test result, all unvaccinated students in the household must remain home. However, per DOH, if your child is vaccinated and asymptomatic, they can still attend school. Students and staff who have been tested as a result of a COVID-19 suspicion must stay home until the results are confirmed.
Okeechobee students return to school on Aug. 10.