Important Quarantine Update from Superintendent of Schools, Marcus Chambers

OCSD Letterhead

We prepared this letter to send to parents prior to a press conference held by Governor DeSantis yesterday afternoon. During the conference, the Governor stated that healthy students should not be quarantined. Governor DeSantis has been a champion for students throughout this difficult year and provided guidance and resources that have greatly benefitted the students of Okaloosa County. Upon hearing the Governor’s comments, we reached out to the Department of Health, who has the statutory authority to quarantine, to see if it had received updated directives or emergency orders that would change how they contact trace and quarantine students. We also spoke with the Florida Department of Education in hopes of receiving information. We have been told that the Florida Department of Health is meeting to determine next steps, and we will update you as soon as we receive information that changes what is stated below.

Dear Parents,

Many parents have asked about contact tracing and the quarantining of students after a positive COVID result is found in a school. We have shared information about this topic on our website, social media, email, and through District-created documents such as our Chronicles in COVID. However, considering recent increases in the number of quarantined students in some of our schools, we are taking this opportunity to share answers to some of the questions we have been receiving to continue to keep you informed.

As parents, we all want our children to be safe, and it can be frustrating when otherwise healthy students are required to be away from school due to a required quarantine. As your Superintendent, I have experienced firsthand having a child home from school for an extended period and share your concern for all our students’ academic and social/emotional well-being.

  • Who has the authority to contact trace and mandate quarantining within a school?
    • The Department of Health in Okaloosa County (DOH) is the entity with the authority to isolate and quarantine. DOH initially allows people to agree to voluntary isolation or quarantine. However, if an individual ignores isolation and quarantine guidance, the DOH will issue a quarantine order that is enforceable under state law.
  • What starts the contact tracing and quarantining process?
    • When the School District is made aware of a confirmed positive COVID case (either student or staff), it must conduct contact tracing under the direction of the Department of Health using their guidelines. Students determined to be within six (6) feet of a positive COVID case for more than fifteen (15) minutes are defined to be close contacts and must quarantine. Per the DOH, the School District does not have any authority in this determination. It only assists in identifying the students.
  • How long does quarantine last?
    • Quarantine lasts for fourteen (14) days after last contact with a person who has COVID-19.
  • How can I keep up with the number of positive cases and quarantined students in schools?
    • We have asked the Department of Health to provide us with positive cases and quarantine numbers weekly. When we receive the information, it is shared on our website the same day.
  • Does the Superintendent or School Board have the authority to quarantine anyone?
    • No. The Superintendent and School Board have no discretion or authority to isolate or quarantine. That authority lies solely with the Department of Health.
  • Will masks or desk barriers keep a student who is a close contact from having to quarantine?
    • No. According to the Department of Health, wearing a mask or sitting behind a desk barrier will not keep a student from having to quarantine if they are a close contact.
  • If a mask or desk barrier will not keep a student who is a close contact from having to quarantine, why should they be used?
    • Face coverings and desk barriers can still be effective in limiting the spread of COVID-19, especially when social distancing cannot be maintained.
  • How will my child keep up with their classes if they are quarantined?
    • It is recommended that students who are quarantined stay enrolled in their brick and mortar classes and continue to do their schoolwork remotely from home while their place in the classroom is held for their return. Your school and teachers are committed to working with students to ensure there are no negative consequences whatsoever for students under quarantine.
  • What are the schools doing to minimize the number of students having to quarantine?
    • Schools have taken a number of steps to keep students spread out so that they are not subject to the six (6) foot requirement and continue to make adjustments. It is not feasible to keep all students and staff separated from each other within a school environment at all times. Classrooms have been spread out as much as possible to lessen the impact of contact tracing. Large gatherings have been eliminated and lunches have been spread out. These and other measures have kept quarantining numbers from being even higher.

Consistent through all of the planning and conversations this summer about wearing face coverings, practicing social distancing, enhancing cleaning and disinfecting protocols, limiting student gatherings, altering schedules, and thinning out cafeterias, was an acknowledgement that we would likely have positive COVID cases at some point this fall. That has proven to be true. Thankfully, the transmission of positive COVID cases within school buildings remains low. And we are grateful that of the positive student cases, there appear to be none that have resulted in serious illness. We will continue in our effort to make it through these challenging times and to keep you informed.

To that end, our COVID Dashboard located on the District’s website is updated weekly as soon as we receive the information from the Department of Health. We want to keep the public informed of new cases each week for both students and staff as well as totals dating to the first day of school. We also share the number of students who were quarantined each week by school as provided by the Department of Health. Remember, if your child has symptoms or has been COVID tested due to a positive individual in the household, please keep them at home until they are cleared to return to school by a physician.

If you have any additional questions about mandatory isolation and quarantine, you may contact your local and state Departments of Health at these numbers:

  • Okaloosa County Department of Health Public Information Line - 850.344.0566
  • State COVID-19 Call Center - 866.779.6121

Thank you,

Marcus Chambers, Superintendent