Central faces evolving COVID protocols


Sara Price, Staff Writer

Two years ago, as students prepared to depart for Spring Break, an extra week off turned into months of staying at home. Students around the country found themselves grappling with online classes, quarantine, mandatory masks, and restrictions on everything that makes Central central.

Fast forward to 2021 and students are still met with mask mandates, contact tracing, and social distancing along with six minutes between classes and reduced attendance at games and school events. 

Originally, this return to classrooms was met by mixed reactions because some students enjoyed learning in the comfort of their own homes.

“When in school I am always scared to call out and say things during class in fear of being wrong,” explained junior Valentina Cervera. “While doing online classes, I was more comfortable talking out during class.” 

When returning to brick and mortar, classes were met with a vacancy of both students and teachers. This year, Palm Beach Central has around 2900 students in school. This number has decreased from last year due to students switching from in-person to virtual platforms, such as Florida Virtual School (FLVS). In addition, Palm Beach County is experiencing a teacher shortage, with 349 teacher vacancies materializing as of October 13.

Before students even stepped into their classes for this year, one of the most controversial topics involving statewide returns to school was mask mandates. Briefly, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis secured a ban on mask mandates in schools through an executive order, expressing that parents should have the right to decide on the health and education of their children. However, several school districts, including Palm Beach County, voted to still impose mask mandates on students and staff with limited medical exemptions. 

In turn, DeSantis went as far as saying “there will be consequences” to districts that defied his ban. Those consequences included cutting the district’s funding and withholding the salaries of school board members. As a result, the U.S. Department of Education has agreed to restore funds to Florida school districts that implement these safety measures using federal money. 

When not worrying about school mandates, most students are looking on the bright side of returning to campus.

“I enjoyed going back to school because it gave me a sense of life before COVID hit,” said junior Lin Ein.

Even with excitement about returning to school, there is still a concern that students could pass the virus from person to person. According to the Palm Beach County School District’s COVID-19 dashboard, the total number of cases in Palm Beach County is 6,420 as of October 18. Additionally, PBC has recorded 106 students and 8 employees who have tested positive for COVID-19 from August 10 to October 19. 

Due to the increase in COVID cases at the beginning of the year, PBC had developed rigorous measures for contact tracing in school. One of the measures was to quarantine students who had either tested positive for the virus or come in contact with someone who had COVID. 

If a student was found to be in close proximity to an individual that tested positive for COVID-19, they were pulled out of class and told to go to the auditorium. Then, these contact-traced students were told to stay home unless they were fully vaccinated, received a negative test, or quarantined for a certain number of days. If students that had been exposed came back to class without completing one of those requirements, they would be denied access to enter the school.

“It’s a full-time job to contact trace and make sure we are following the proper protocol to make sure students and staff are healthy,” said Ms. Wehr.

In September, Joseph Ladapo, Florida’s surgeon general, signed changed protocols to modify how quarantine was conducted. Now, even if students are exposed to COVID, they can stay at school as long as they are asymptomatic. 

“Quarantining healthy students is incredibly damaging for their educational advancement,” said Republican Gov. DeSantis. “It’s also disruptive for families. We are going to be following a symptoms-based approach.”

One of the most evident modifications to life at Central was the capacity restrictions. For example, during the homecoming pep rally, seniors and juniors were planned to sit on the bleachers, while underclassmen were scheduled to watch from their classrooms. However, due to inclement weather, the pep rally was moved to the gym and the juniors could no longer attend due to the decreased amount of space.  

Some other capacity modifications include restricting the number of homecoming tickets, limiting sporting events to 50% capacity, and making school wide-assemblies virtual.

Overall, students are still hoping that the signs point to a return to normalcy in the 2021-22 school year. 

“I feel like my sophomore year was taken from me,” said junior Juan Moscoso.“I’m hoping the rest of my high school years will be normal.”

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