POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Polk County Public Schools changed its policy on Tuesday to allow teachers to return to school if they have been exposed to COVID-19 but are asymptomatic.
“They will have the option of continuing to work or can self-quarantine if they have concerns,” Kyle Kennedy with Polk County Public Schools media relations wrote in a statement to News Channel 8. “If they continue working, these teachers must also monitor their temperature and symptoms, practice social distancing and have their work areas cleaned more frequently.”
Teachers who live with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus are required to self-quarantine.
Outgoing school board member Billy Townsend said he believes the policy was changed because too many teachers were being placed under quarantine.
“Rather than just be honest about that and say that directly, they put out this nonsense about protecting people’s safety. It has nothing to do with that. It has to do with capacity,” he said.
This announcement came the same day 8 On Your Side started receiving reports that potentially dozens of teachers and nearly 300 students were under quarantine at Lakeland High School and Harrison School for the Arts.
“The district certainly hasn’t debunked it. It’s just kind of vaguely nodded at it,” said Townsend, who has heard similar reports from the schools.
Polk County Public Schools directed our inquiries regarding quarantined individuals to the Florida Department of Health in Polk County.
“At this time, information regarding cases or epidemiological investigations are not available and exempt from public records disclosure,” DOH Public Information Specialist Nicole Riley in a statement.
Polk Education Association President Stephanie Yocum said she is trying to bring quarantine figures at Polk County schools to light.
“The public has a right to know and we have a right to know so that we can help best keep our members safe,” said Yocum. “We’ve put in several requests. They’ve gotten back with us saying we’re working on it but then they direct us to their website.”
On its online dashboard, Polk County Public Schools is reporting 12 cases of COVID-19 connected to Lakeland High School and Harrison School for the Arts.
Most of the six cases reported Wednesday involved people under quarantine, according to an email sent to parents.
Yocum believes the new quarantine policy puts teachers at risk.
“You’re telling somebody that could have been exposed, you just keep exposing yourself to other people and possibly spreading the infection and we’ll wait until you’re symptomatic,” she said.
Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd was not available for an interview Wednesday.
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