Pasco schools might halt sports, activities if virus cases keep rising

‘We need your help,’ superintendent Kurt Browning tells parents.

Tampa Bay Times | by Jeffrey S. Solochek | November 10, 2020

A surge of the coronavirus within Pasco County schools has prompted district leaders to consider canceling extracurricular events that might contribute to spreading the virus.

“If the infection rate locally continues on an upward trend, and if we continue to see an increase in cases in our schools, we will have to seriously consider curtailing or eliminating such activities,” superintendent Kurt Browning said in a new YouTube video message to families.

The local health department has told the district that the county’s testing positivity rate is about 7.5 percent, after having decreased below 5 percent.

The schools have seen 101 new cases over the past week, affecting more than 1,400 students and teachers.

“Our goal from the very start of school has been to provide a safe learning environment,” Browning said in an interview. “Most of the cases that we’re finding in our schools are a direct result of bringing it in from outside. My goal is to keep schools open.”

If that means scaling back the activities where participants and audiences are least likely to wear masks and maintain distances, he said, that might be the direction the district takes. But he isn’t ready to take such measures just yet, with the district having recently taken steps to ease limitations on sports events and arts performances.

Instead, Browning called upon parents, students and staff to take the necessary steps to protect themselves and others from the virus. Having suffered it himself during the summer, he said he wouldn’t wish such an illness on anyone else.

“Much of this remains in our control,” the superintendent said.

He stressed the importance of wearing masks in the community as well as in the schools, where most students and staff adhere to the rules. He also reiterated that being quarantined from school does not mean it’s okay to participate in other activities while staying away from classrooms.

“These are times we kind of relax,” Browning said, noting the state’s drive to open everything back up. “There is this sense that everything is back to normal. But I will tell you it’s not normal.”

Denise Nicholas, immediate past president of the county PTA council, shared the message on a Facebook page dedicated to school district advocacy. She has children in two of the schools that have seen some of the greatest case activity.

“I appreciate him addressing it,” Nicholas said of the superintendent’s message. “We need to do something.”

The response among the parents and district staff has been largely supportive, Nicholas said, though not everyone agrees with the solution.

One contingent has pushed hard to reduce the numbers of students in classrooms, as a way to improve distancing, she noted. Another stressed the importance of parents not sending their children to school with any symptoms, a concern that has repeatedly arisen since early in the year.

She praised schools for doing a “phenomenal job” of following health and safety guidelines. Pasco residents must do the same, she agreed.

Browning stressed that he does not want to get rid of any activities.

“But what’s the sense of having these activities in school if the end result is we have to close the school?” he said.

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