COVID-19: DeSantis says schools shouldn’t close, amid closures in Jacksonville

COVID-19: Closure, virtual learning extended for Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Douglas Anderson School of the Arts in Jacksonville will extend its brick and mortar closure through October 29, Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) tells Action News Jax on Tuesday. The school transition to online learning on Monday. Duncan U. Fletcher High School is also currently conducting classes through Duval HomeRoom due to COVID-19 cases.

Douglas Anderson principal, Melanie Hammer, sent a detailed message to parents explaining the circumstances.

“… It is clear that the number of close contacts will exceed the district’s threshold requiring the school to stay online if more than 20 percent of the students are needing to quarantine,” said Hammer.

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Douglas Anderson is the second school in the district to announce it would be extending a temporary closure due to COVID-19. Fletcher High School announced it would be doing the same through October 28. According to the DCPS COVID-19 dashboard, 11 students and staff at Douglas Anderson have tested positive for the virus.

Rachel Dorrian, a Douglas Anderson parent, weighed in on the decision to close the school to in-person learning and activities.

“I think it gives them a chance for contact tracing, which can help isolate people who might be positive,” said Dorrian.

The dashboard indicates 43 students and staff at Fletcher have tested positive. The dashboard showed 32 cases at Fletcher on Monday.

Hours prior to news of the closure extension at Douglas Anderson, the Providence School of Jacksonville confirmed to Action News Jax two students had tested positive for COVID-19.

Headmaster at Providence, Tim Anderson, says Juniors and Seniors were sent home, but not all students in those grade levels were exposed to the virus.

“As of right now there are two confirmed positive cases of COVD-19. As a precaution, all Juniors and Seniors have been sent home. Not all have been exposed to COVID-19. We have sent them home to disinfect their classrooms,” said Anderson in a statement.

Wednesday only, Grades 9-12 at the school will be closed and those students will learn from home virtually.

“Students who were directly exposed will be out for fourteen days,” said Anderson. “The others will return when we feel it is safe to do so. Our current plan is for students in 9th - 12th grade to transition to remote learning, tomorrow only, to allow thorough cleaning of the high school spaces. In the meantime, high school students will use our virtual learning option to attend classes synchronously.”

Governor Ron DeSantis visited Jacksonville on Tuesday to discuss the state’s handling of the coronavirus as it relates to schools. He praised the decision to reopen schools statewide.

“The evidence was abundantly clear then, and it’s even more clear now, that schools are not drivers of spreading coronavirus, and schools need to be open,” said DeSantis.

He went on to say school closures should be taken off the table.

“They don’t do anything to mitigate COVID, but they do cause catastrophic damage to the physical, mental and social wellbeing of our youth,” said DeSantis. “Let’s not repeat any mistakes of the past.”

Following his comments, DeSantis was asked about the closures of Fletcher and Douglas Anderson due to positive COVID-19 cases.

“I’m not sure of those instances,” said DeSantis. “I think, what we’ve tried to say is, you know, closing the school is not the best option. If you have some students who have some positive tests, yeah obviously you can isolate them, but that really is a better model than to just throw in the towel because you’re going to have a lot of students who are going to be stuck at home for two weeks.”

Action News Jax reached out to DCPS for a response to the Governor’s comments.

A DCPS spokesperson tells Action News Jax in a phone conversation the decision on whether a school should be closed is made under the guidance of the Florida Department of Health and CDC. The spokesperson said the district will maintain this approach.

Laura Hale, mother of an immunocompromised teacher in Duval County, spoke to Action News Jax on Tuesday. She shared her reactions to news of the closures, and concerns for her son.

“As a parent, I’m worried for him, I’m worried about my child who is a teacher, and I’m worried about the children in our neighborhood,” said Hale.

Hale, a registered nurse, also responded to the comments made by Governor DeSantis on school closures being taken off the table.

“The problem is we don’t know who is healthy,” said Hale. “… And that’s the problem. You can be an asymptomatic carrier.”

READ THE FULL MESSAGE FROM PRINCIPAL HAMMER, DOUGLAS ANDERSON, BELOW:

"Hello Douglas Anderson Families, this is Principal Hammer calling with an update on the situation at our school.

"While the Department of Health continues its contact tracing work in response to the active cases of COVID-19 at our school, it is clear that the number of close contacts will exceed the district’s threshold requiring the school to stay online if more than 20 percent of the students are needing to quarantine.

"As a result, we will remain in online instruction through Duval HomeRoom through October 29th. Again, we will remain in online instruction through October 29th. All extracurricular activities, including group rehearsals, practices and other events will be suspended during this time. Our testing scheduled for this week will be rescheduled.

“Students will return to school for brick and mortar instruction beginning October 30th. I do want to remind you that while we are in Duval HomeRoom, we will continue to follow our normal bell schedule. Students should plan to be engaged online at 8:25 a.m. On behalf of the leadership, teachers and staff at Douglas Anderson, we will continue to work to make the online experience the best it can be and look forward to regathering as a school community on the 30th. Good bye.”