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Panama City School Closes; Tallahassee High School Remains Open After Both See Spike In COVID-19 Cases

a close-up of what coronavirus looks like under a microscope
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.

A post-Thanksgiving spike in COVID-19 infections has caused an entire student body in Bay County to finish the semester online, while a high school in Leon County plans to continue in-person instruction despite a recent outbreak.

A high school in Panama City is closing after a post-Thanksgiving spike in COVID-19 infections forced about a third of the student body to self-quarantine.

"Much of this has been caused by parents sending their children to schools while they’re sick," said Bay District Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt. "We’ve even had instances of parents sending their kids to school after getting tested and waiting on the test results."

Ten high school students at the Dean Bozeman School's K-12 campus have recently tested positive for COVID-19, district officials announced in a recent press release.

The district hasn't been releasing the number of cases reported at each individual school. Instead, district-wide case totals and the number of schools where students have tested positive are updated daily online.

Through contact tracing, officials with the Florida Department of Health in Bay County have identified 189 students who had close contact with at least one of the 10 recently infected high school students at the Dean Bozeman School.

With nearly a third of high school's student body under quarantine, district leaders say they decided to send all students home to finish out the rest of the semester online after consulting with health department officials. Otherwise teachers would have to provide in-person and virtual instruction simultaneously, said Superintendent Bill Husfelt.

“It’s just very frustrating for the teachers right now to have to keep dealing with this back and forth,” Husfelt said. “We haven’t seen any other real spikes in the other schools.”

Teachers and support staff will remain in their classrooms while providing virtual instruction until Winter Break starts on Dec. 21. Students will return to campus on Jan. 4.

Elementary- and middle-school students will remain on campus for in-person instruction because there have been only two cases reported at each of those schools in the last several days, said Lyndsey Jackson, the district's supervisory nurse.

"That’s the same as any other elementary school in the district," Jackson said. "There haven’t been more than that."

This is the first time this semester that the district has temporarily sent every student home for virtual learning.

In Tallahassee, cases have spiked at one high school since students returned from Thanksgiving break. Ten students at Lawton Chiles High School have recently tested positive for COVID-19, with the first case reported on Nov. 30 and three reported on Dec. 8, the district's COVID-19 dashboard shows.

Screen Shot 2020-12-10 at 8.30.25 PM.png
Leon County Schools
The district's dashboard shows a spike in cases at Lawton Chiles High School in the week after students returned from Thanksgiving break on Nov. 30, 2020.

Despite the recent surge in cases, the district has no plans to close the school at this time, said Chris Petley, the district’s spokesperson.

“Our students wear masks all day. We keep social distancing as far apart as possible,” Petley said.

Petley says the district has given students a device to continue their studies if they must quarantine at home.

“When there is an instance where someone from the community comes onto our campuses that tests positive or there are students that are exposed, they’re able to take that device, go home and continue their learning on-par with students that are learning in-person.”