Sarasota school district left shorthanded by COVID-19 cases, quarantines

Coronavirus

"We cannot afford to lose any more of our employees"

SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – One week into the new school year, district leaders in Sarasota County are dealing with a significant rise in COVID-19 cases. According to the district’s dashboard, 245 students and staff are currently positive and isolated with 222 more at home quarantining.

The impacts are already putting a strain on the district’s day-to-day operations. The transportation, food service and custodial departments are seeing the biggest impacts right now.

“We are having a hard time getting all of our kids to school on time because of the number of people who are out,” said district Superintendent Dr. Brennan Asplen. “At a couple of schools, we had to do grab and go today because we don’t have enough food service people to run our cafeterias and cook our food,” he explained to school board members during a workshop Tuesday.

The district leader expressed his worries to the board.

“We are constantly looking at ways to mitigate that and try to get substitutes and different people in there to help us in the operations. What concerns me is yes, we are able to handle it and figure it out right now, but if it gets worse, this isn’t like anything we have ever seen before when it comes to an operation standpoint of our school system and so we are very very concerned about that,” said Dr. Asplen.

The district’s Chief Operations Officer Jody Dumas explained ‘operations are tight’.

“We are absolutely doing everything we possibly can on the operations side to pull from other departments to help across the line where things are most critical. The problem with that is the well is only so deep,” said Dumas.

He explained the district is only ‘a few COVID cases away’ from having to double up bus routes where the same driver from the same school runs two routes. Dumas explained that would make the second trip an hour to two hours late to school or back home.

The local teacher’s union expressed concerns about the impact on overall education.

“It is just so disruptive,” said union president Patricia Gardner. “Kids are already behind from last year and the year before and now they are disrupted all over again and I worry about that too and I know teachers are too,” she continued.

Dr. Manuel Gordillo with Sarasota Memorial Hospital urged the school board to put a mask mandate in place with no opt-out.

“We are at the worst of the pandemic in Florida. We are at the worst of the pandemic in Sarasota and we need your help,” said Dr. Gordillo. “During the acute medical hospital crisis that we are dealing with right now, I would say, I would not allow opt-outs. Once the medical crisis is alleviated, then we can have a conversation about that,” he continued.

The school board will discuss a possible mask mandate at an emergency workshop scheduled for this Friday at 3 p.m.

The Sarasota County School District has employment opportunities for teachers, bus drivers, & food service workers, among others. More information about the district’s benefits packages and employment information can be found on the HR department’s webpage.

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