Sarasota teachers excited, nervous for back to school as COVID case count rises


SARASOTA COUNTY (WFLA) – Teachers across Sarasota County are getting ready for the first day of school next week. Tuesday was their first day back in their classrooms.

Educators we spoke with are excited and eager to get back to school and welcome kids back into their classrooms. However, there are some concerns with COVID-19 cases across the community still on the rise.

“I think everyone is a little bit nervous about what this year brings. People are worried about their safety,” said Executive Director of Sarasota Classified/ Teacher’s Association Barry Dubin.

The testing site on the Sarasota-Manatee county line has been packed and seeing long lines daily for the last few weeks.

Meantime, Sarasota Memorial Hospital is treating a record-breaking number of COVID-positive patients. As of Wednesday, the hospital’s COVID patient census was at 136. That’s the highest number they’ve seen since the start of the pandemic.

Teachers we spoke with are thankful to have an extra layer of protection going into this school year. Longtime educator Christy Karwatt took a leave of absence last year due to COVID concerns. This year, she is excited to be back, but still a little anxious.

“I am a little bit concerned about the COVID situation. I feel that I am protected if I get sick, I don’t think it will be too bad, but I am concerned about the little ones,” said Karwatt. “I do have a five-month-old grandbaby so I know that once I go back into the classroom I will wear a mask around him because I don’t want him to get sick,” she explained.

Masks will be optional for students and staff in Sarasota County schools.

“I think everybody would be safer, the entire community, if we did require everybody to wear a mask at school. I might still wear it the whole time because I want to set an example for my students. If everybody would just mask up, I think we might not have to worry about quarantining and missing so much school this year,” said Karwatt.

The local teacher’s union has been hearing from educators nonstop. Dubin says teachers just want to make sure they’re doing everything they can to keep themselves and their students safe during these uncertain times.

“Everyone is worried about their safety and the safety of the kids. That is the number one thing,” said Dubin. “The other thing about this issue is no matter what you do, you are going to make at least a quarter of people very angry and it makes people hesitant to take action that perhaps they should,” he continued.

District officials tell 8 On Your Side their goal is to open schools as ‘normally as possible’.

“Our goal is to open the school year as normally as possible. We plan to allow all extracurricular activities and utilize volunteers in the classrooms. We are still being advised by the local Department of Health to implement social distancing when possible. Social distancing cannot be guaranteed and is dependent on the number of students and staff in any location at a given time. We will continue to follow DOH guidelines utilizing their quarantine procedures. Classrooms, as well as high traffic areas and touchpoints, will continue to be cleaned regularly, as they were throughout this past year,” explained a school district official.

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