Two Miami students test positive for COVID as schools reopen

At least two students attending Miami-Dade County Public Schools have tested positive for COVID-19 in the first week that schools reopened to accommodate students who prefer in-person learning.

A school district spokeswoman confirmed multiple positive cases in an email to the Herald at 10:21 p.m. She said the impacted schools and individuals have been notified, but that the district’s COVID-19 dashboard would not be updated until Friday morning.

“It was almost inevitable that as we reopened schools [that] some of these cases would happen,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said in a video that the district sent to the Herald on Thursday, begging parents to not send sick children to school and to complete a self-screening assessment at home.

By Thursday evening, a spokeswoman with the United Teachers of Dade said the union confirmed six schools, possibly seven, with positive COVID-19 cases. One of those schools has four cases among students and staff.

Miami-Dade’s elementary schools opened Monday to welcome back students in pre-K, kindergarten and first grade. All elementary school students, plus students in grades 6, 9 and 10 whose parents wished for them to return to school for in-person learning returned on Wednesday. Students in grades 7, 8, 11 and 12 will return to school on Friday.

One student tested positive at William H. Lehman Elementary in Kendall, as reflected by the school district’s COVID-19 dashboard. The student is in either pre-K, kindergarten or first grade, as the student was in school on Monday and Tuesday, according to a school parent with knowledge of the case.

Two sources told the Herald at least one other student tested positive at Charles D. Wyche Elementary in Miami Gardens. The student is said to have special needs and came in close contact with a teacher.

The school district’s COVID-19 dashboard, which the district said is programmed to look for new data several times per day and will be updated whenever the program confirms a positive case, does not yet reflect the Wyche case.

In the Lehman Elementary case, the student’s parents reported the case to the school. The school district said the student did not contract the virus at the school.

District officials said in an email to the Herald Thursday that individuals who were identified as coming in close contact with the student were notified Wednesday night and will remain home until cleared.

Class, teacher at Lehman will be quarantined

The student’s class and teacher have been asked to quarantine. All classes have eaten lunch inside their own classrooms, so movement in the school was restricted.

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A student at William Lehman Elementary School has tested positive for COVID-19, school district officials said on Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. The Kendall school reopened its classrooms to students on Monday, along with all the other public elementary schools in Miami-Dade. Students leave at dismissal on Thursday. Al Diaz [email protected]

A press release from the school district sent at 11:30 a.m. Thursday said the Lehman Elementary student will remain home until the Health Department provides clearance for a return to school.

“Although the student’s movements in the school were limited, the entire school was thoroughly sanitized early this morning according to M-DCPS protocols,” the release said. “The school community has been sent a notification about the case.”

The school district later said eight master custodians reported to the school at 3:30 a.m. Thursday and used electrostatic equipment to sanitize the entire building, including all rooms, hallways, high-touch areas. “Any area where people lean, sit or touch.”

The work finished by 6 a.m., before anyone arrived at the school.

Student tests positive at Downtown Doral Charter

A student at Downtown Doral Charter Elementary School also tested positive for COVID-19, the school principal said in a letter to parents this week.

The letter, dated Oct. 6, told parents “Your child may have been in contact with someone at Downtown Doral Preschool and Elementary who was subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19,” as first reported by WSVN.

The charter school, which has students from pre-K through fifth grade, told parents all of its facilities were closed for a deep-cleaning following CDC guidelines and that everyone who had come into close contact with the student had been notified and was being asked to quarantine for 14 days.

DDCES is a charter school managed by Miami-Dade County Public Schools. The school was initially listed on the district’s COVID-19 dashboard but that disappeared Thursday. The dashboard never reflected the positive DDCES case.

The school district later clarified that the confirmation of cases in charter schools is not overseen by the district, and only charter school operators can provide that information.

It is still unclear when the Downtown Doral student was last on campus or when the school was notified that the child had tested positive for COVID-19.

Head of Schools Jeannette Acevedo-Isenberg said in an email to the Miami Herald that the school had “nothing else to add beyond what is detailed” in the policies and procedures listed on the school’s website and declined to give any additional information “out of privacy for the person involved.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez visited the school last month while it was preparing to reopen. The two met with school administrators, teachers and parents a week before classes resumed for in-person learning in late September.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Doral Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez met with school administrators, teachers and parents at Downtown Doral Charter Elementary School on Sept. 15, 2020, as the school prepared to reopen.

United Teachers of Dade president Karla Hernandez-Mats issued a statement on the Lehman and Downtown Doral charter cases. The union was strongly opposed to the rush to reopen schools under pressure from DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who pressured the School Board to move up its reopening timeline from Oct. 14 to Oct. 5, which was Monday.

“We cannot underscore enough how serious and indiscriminate this virus is and how rapidly it can spread regardless of school or class size,” Hernandez-Mats said.

She asked people in the community to monitor their family’s health closely, limit the number of interactions they have with others outside of their home, keep children home if they are sick, and whenever possible, provide their children and teachers with any additional resources for personal sanitation use in classrooms, such as antibacterial wipes, soap and spray.

“By working together we can all stay safe and continue working toward giving our children the learning experience they deserve,” Hernandez-Mats said.

Parents’ concerns at Lehman

Shortly before the 3 p.m. dismissal, parents and other caregivers in cars lined up outside the entrance of Lehman Elementary.

Teachers walked the children out in single-file lines. Their arms were stretched out before them to maintain social distance from their classmates.

Many of the waiting parents said they were concerned about the news of the child testing positive, but felt it was not the time to panic.

“We can’t keep avoiding all this stuff,” said Roxan Markovic as she waited to pick up her 6- and 7-year-old children.

Xiomara Rodrige sent her third-grade daughter back to in-person class, but kept her middle school son home to learn virtually. She said they each do better in those respective environments.

She’s worried about COVID in the school, but for now, she’s sticking with her plan.

“I was concerned, but, my daughter was having a hard time learning and focusing at home,” Rodrige said.

Mayra Rosario was waiting in the school driveway for her third-grader niece to come out. Her daughter is in pre-K and has been in face-to-face class since August, so she’s had time to think about the risks of sending children back to school as the pandemic swirls.

“I feel like it’s not about who’s going to get it at this point, it’s when we’re going to get it,” Rosario said.

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Colleen Wright returned to the Miami Herald in May 2018 to cover all things education, including Miami-Dade and Broward schools, colleges and universities. The Herald was her first internship before she left her hometown of South Miami to earn a journalism degree from the University of Florida. She previously covered education for the Tampa Bay Times.