Pasco schools weathering positive COVID results through first 3 weeks

LAND O’ LAKES – Prior to the first day of school Aug. 24, Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning said teachers, students and families need to be prepared for positive COVID-19 cases.

The first positive was reported on the second day of school, Aug. 25, at Fivay High School and impacted 25 students. Since then, 50 more positive cases were reported as of Sept. 10 – 37 total students and 14 total employees. The cases have impacted 1,007 students and 82 staff members, according to numbers posted to the Pasco County School District website.

According to the website, “impacted” refers to students or staff who are required to remain away from school due to a positive case resulting in quarantine. A page on the site is dedicated to outlining procedures and protocols in the event of positive COVID cases.

A handful of schools have reported more than one positive COVID case, such as three student cases at Zephyrhills High that have impacted 267 students and 12 employees, but the situation is not dire at the moment, said Don Peace, President of the United School Employees of Pasco.

“We’ve seen an uptick each week but it’s not spiraling out of control,” Peace said in a telephone interview Sept. 10. “We have not had to close down sections of schools or whole schools, so I think that’s a plus.”

Coronavirus apprehensions aside, Peace said the union is in talks with the district regarding blended teaching classes and class sizes. Blended classes refer to those where teachers are instructing students physically present as well as others watching and listening remotely. The Pinellas County School District and its teachers are having a similar issue navigating the uncharted terrain of blended classrooms, as well.

“It’s almost a second job to deal with those that are physically present and those that are online,” Peace said. “It’s almost like teaching two classes at once and we’re finding that some people are having a lot of problems with that.”

Peace added that the upcoming 20-day count of enrolled students will provide a clearer picture of class sizes and those that may be overcrowded.

“There are some challenges. We’re trying to work with the district to remedy those and the next couple weeks will probably tell a big story,” Peace said. He added that financial conversations with the district are also just beginning and that it’s still yet to be seen, as of Sept. 10, whether the recent three-day Labor Day weekend caused any spikes in positive COVID cases.

“Our goal is to make safe options and try to work through this hopefully temporary situation as best we can and get back to some semblance of sanity,” Peace said. “We’re taking it one day at a time. It’s touch and go.”

High school football cancellations

Earlier this summer, COVID-19 threatened to cancel fall sports all together. While school districts debated when students would return to class, athletic departments and the statewide high school athletic association wrangled with the option of allowing student-athletes to compete this fall, oftentimes in sports that involve players coming in close contact.

Pasco County welcomed its student-athletes back to practice Aug. 24, the first day of in-person classes, and regular-season competition started up after Labor Day weekend on Sept. 8.

Week 1 football games were set to begin for junior varsity and varsity programs on Sept. 10 and 11. As of Sept. 10, two high schools had to cancel their openers because of positive COVID-19 cases. Zephyrhills High cancelled its first two regular season games and Land O’ Lakes cancelled its Sept. 11 opener against Mitchell High the day before kickoff.