Sunday, June 23, 2024

New Quarantine Policy Another Complication for School District

It was a typical week for Palm Beach County School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri.

On Wednesday, Barbieri heard another round of hateful—usually uninformed—criticism from people opposed to the board’s mask mandate. As that played out, Barbieri and his colleagues learned that Florida’s new surgeon general, Joseph Ladapo, had imposed a new COVID-19 quarantine policy on all of the state’s 67 school districts.

Parents now will decide when their children return to school after being exposed to the virus. The children don’t need to present a negative test. If the child shows no symptoms, the parent can send that child back on campus, even though asymptomatic children can spread COVID-19. Students who test positive can return if they get a note from a medical doctor, an osteopath or an advanced registered nurse practitioner.

As usual, the DeSantis administration gave no notice. School board members got no warning before the governor’s July 30 executive order that banned districts from requiring masks. That issue remains in court.

Coincidentally, last Wednesday the board was debating protocols to keep schools safe while reducing the amount of time children must spend in quarantine. Key to the approach is rapid COVID-19 testing.

“We didn’t have much time to consider (Ladapo’s order) during the meeting,” said Barbieri, whose district includes Boca Raton and West Boca. The district’s COVID-19 protocols are “still in development.”

Speakers who frothed at the board members over masks miss the irony that they and the board want the same thing: to keep students in schools. But the board, like almost all public health experts and pediatricians—Ladapo being a notable exception—considers masks part of the solution.

Wednesday brought a rerun of earlier comments. If the board values students’ health, one woman stated, why isn’t there more education on the nutritional harm from Pop-Tarts? Several speakers claimed—falsely—that masks harm children’s health and amount to “psychological abuse.”

A new low, however, came from a girl who identified herself as a second-grader. She hoped that all seven board members “go to jail” over the mask mandate. And, she added, “(Interim Superintendent Mike) Burke sucks.”

Despite that unscientific venom, Barbieri said, “The mask mandate is in place. That’s the position of the board. There is no change.” But the board, with Barbieri in the majority, voted for now not to defy Lapado’s quarantine order.

Board members could reverse that position if conditions change. After the surge that saw Florida set records five weeks in a row for COVID-19 deaths, the metrics have been falling. New cases are down roughly two-thirds since this surge—the state’s worst—peaked at the end of August.

Meanwhile, the district will continue to work with Palm Beach County Health Director Alina Alonso on that testing program. Nearly 5,000 students and about 750 staff members have tested positive since the school year began Aug. 10.

Four of the seven school board members are on the ballot next year. Two of those—Debra Robinson and Erica Whitfield—represent Delray Beach. Barbieri won a new, four-year term in 2020.

Since all the incumbents voted for the mask mandate, each is likely to draw at least one and perhaps multiple challengers. But board members run from single-member districts, which will dilute the influence of the anti-maskers. Still, expect the campaigns to resemble meetings like the one last week.

Schmidt Foundation donates $1 million to BRHS

The Boca Raton History Museum has a longtime donor and a new name.

As of last week, it is The Schmidt Boca Raton History Museum. The name change comes because of a $1 million donation from the Schmidt Foundation, which already has a long record of philanthropy throughout the city.

Mary Csar is the historical society’s executive director. The foundation, she said, long had given “small annual donations.” This one grew out of a conversation she had last year with Richard Schmidt, who runs the foundation.

Csar wanted ideas for the museum’s makeover, which the public can see when the facility reopens in November. Among other things, Csar and Schmidt discussed the idea of an oral history about Boca Raton’s downtown redevelopment that began in 1980 with creation of the community redevelopment agency.

Schmidt, Csar said, did not ask about the renaming. But when the pledge came about several months ago, “It was at the right time.” The fundraising campaign to transform the museum with new exhibits in an interactive format had presented other naming opportunities.

Of the Schmidt donation, Csar said, “I hope this is the start of a partnership.”

Delray water bills

Photo by Steve Johnson from Pexels

It’s good to see that Delray Beach cares whether residents get accurate water bills. It’s disconcerting, though, that accurate water bills even are an issue.

According to a news release, City Manager Terrence Moore “has instituted a heightened review process and high-level accountability” by the utilities and finance departments.

The review is aimed at “mitigating any negative effects on customers.” That means overbilling. The review will include an examination of water meters.

Delray Beach continues to negotiate with the Florida Department of Health over a proposed $1.8 million fine for water safety violations between 2007 and 2020. It would be doubly insulting to learn that residents have been overcharged for poor-quality water. It remains unclear how and why problems in the water department lingered for so long.

Polsky starts building war chest    

Tina Polsky, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

We still don’t know what Florida’s legislative and congressional districts will look like for the 2022 election. But the state senator who represents Boca Raton isn’t waiting.

Democrat Tina Polsky has raised $60,000, with $20,000 of that coming from a personal loan. Polsky’s District 29 also includes West Boca and portions of northwest Broward County.

Polsky won the seat last year. Senate terms normally are four years, but because all the boundaries will change in 2022 because of redistricting, all incumbents must run. When legislators redraw the maps based on the 2020 census, they will decide which senators must run again in 2024 and which won’t  be on the ballot until 2026. Half of the 40 Senate seats are up every two years.

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Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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