ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - The goal of every school in Orange County is to keep everyone safe. Over 209,000 students and 2,400 staff are preparing for their first day back on Tuesday.
Leaders say the best way to keep the schools safe is by keeping the community safe.
Dr. Raul Pino, of the Orange County Health Department, is stressing that fact while thinking about those on the front lines of the pandemic in the hospitals.
"I have a son [who] works in ER, a daughter-in-law who works in the ER. It’s constant. It’s just constant," said Dr. Pino, as he held back tears.
The emotions on his face were clear even behind his mask.
"People are by themselves in the rooms. They’ve become the priest, the parent, the mother holding the hand, so emotionally, it’s very tasking. It’s taking a toll on them," he said.
Pino insists the COVID vaccine is crucial to keeping schools safe and open. Orange County Public Schools leaders think so, too. The district is offering a $200 bonus to every employee who gets one. Any student or teacher vaccinated will not have to quarantine if exposed to the virus
"As long as they are asymptomatic, they have been vaccinated or have had the virus in the last 90 days, they are fine to return," Pino said.
If a student tests positive for COVID-19, they will be asked to isolate for 10 days. They can return sooner with a doctor’s note or if they can provide a negative test.
An exposed student can return to the classroom after four days with a negative test result or after completing a seven-day quarantine. Masking is required for all staff but students have the option to opt-out with a note from a parent. The county says the masking mandate will be reevaluated in 30 days.
"We believe it ought to be required, but we also respect every parent’s right to opt-out," said Orange County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Jenkins.
To opt-out, all a parent needs to do is write a one-sentence note saying they are doing just that.
"I have decided to opt-out for Harrison wearing a face mask, signed Barbara Jenkins. It’s a simple as that," Jenkins said.
Teachers, staff, and any visitors on school grounds won’t have the option to opt-out and must wear a mask.
Beyond the masks, classrooms will be frequently disinfected and socially distanced as much as possible.
Buses will have windows and vents open to help with the airflow.
"If you are able to transport your own child, even if you qualify for busing, we ask the parents to help us out," Jenkins said. "That will help us spread students out on the buses."
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