K-5 students in Monroe County have been back in the classroom full-time, but those in grades 6-12 continue to attend on an alternating A/B schedule. That has parents, like Stephanie Ganim, growing frustrated as they await the day their middle and high school kids return five days a week.

Monroe County Superintendent of Schools Theresa Axford said during a recent board meeting that the district is still in the “red zone” when examining new cases per 100,000 people the past seven days. And while a discussion is likely with health officials at the March 9 school board meeting, Axford acknowledged that low cases among students, teachers and staff are a byproduct of the district’s mitigation efforts. 

“It’s on my mind every day,” Axford said to school board members on getting all students in the classroom. “I’m thinking about it all the time.”

A guidebook for reopening schools in Monroe County was approved by the board last July. Currently the district allows students in pre-K through fifth grade to attend face-to-face for instruction each day. But class sizes are reduced with some students in a classroom and others stationed elsewhere like gyms. 

As for grades 6-12, students are attending every other day with virtual asynchronous work on alternating days. In an interview last week, Axford told the Weekly that additional students who need support due to poor performance or inability to use technology successfully have been attending five days. As for the number of Keys students in danger of failing, Axford said they don’t have a figure yet.

A school teacher herself, Ganim has a junior who attends Coral Shores. He holds a 3.5 grade point average all while taking honors and AP courses and working two restaurant jobs. He always planned to follow his brothers’ footsteps in attending a four-year college, but decided a couple months ago to attend community college. The reason? “He doesn’t feel prepared,” Ganim said. 

Speaking to board members during the Feb. 23 school board meeting, she relayed that while kids are allowed to engage in activities, clubs and sports after hours, they still aren’t allowed back into school five days a week. 

“Why is it OK for A day and B day students to commingle at a school-sanctioned event after school hours, but not during school?” she said. “How is this fair or helping our kids?”

A change.org petition created by Ganim, urging to get students back to school five days a week, garnered more than 300 signatures as of March 3. Among those supporting the petition is Denise Cano, mother of a freshman and junior who attend Coral Shores. 

While her younger child is pulling a 4.6 grade point average, she said he complains about his learning drive being low. Her older child is barely passing. And his motivation, too, is falling. 

“It takes a village to raise a child, and I personally have had many conversations with other parents, teachers, school administrators and counselors. And they all know our kids are suffering and suffering bad,” Cano said. 

Axford said new COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came out last month didn’t change much. CDC recommends administrators work with local public health officials to assess the level of risk based on the level of community transmission. It recommends they examine the number of cases per 100,000 in the past seven days. 

CDC indicators deem more than 100 new cases per 100,000 in the past seven days as “high transmission,” while 0-9 new cases are characterized as “low transmission.” Per data from the Florida Health Department of Monroe County, for the week spanning Feb. 23 to March 2, 194 new cases of COVID-19 were reported for an average of 27 cases a day. 

But with a district of about 8,700 students, 187 students have been confirmed with COVID-19 since tracking started in late August. Of those, 44 are from Key West High School, 24 from Coral Shores High School, 21 from Plantation Key School in Tavernier and 20 from Marathon High School. 

Thirty-three teachers and 38 staff members were also confirmed to have COVID since the tracking, per the most recent district data. 

“Our mitigation efforts have really worked very well. That could be because we have 6 feet distancing in all of our classrooms,” Axford said. “That definitely has to be one of the reasons for that.”

Axford went on to acknowledge that bringing back all students full-time wouldn’t allow adequate social distancing. 

“We have social distancing right now, and we would have to collapse that from 6 feet to between 3 and 6 feet in order to bring all the students back,” she said. 

Ganim said she doesn’t see why the high school can’t convert the gymnasium into classrooms similar to what Plantation Key School did. Ganim said she’s asking the board to send home a survey asking parents if they want their child in school full-time. 

“I was in support of being closed at the beginning of the school year just to see how things went, but after Labor Day I really began to feel that the kids needed to go back,” she said. “I hope to hear that they finally agree to do what is best for the children of our community and bring these kids back to face to face instruction full time.”

Cano said watching children shift from a daily routine of waking up, getting dressed for success and getting to school on time has all been lost.

“The point is that they had a routine … a consistent routine that supplements those in their personal lives and completes the whole picture,” she said. 

In a March 2 Facebook post, the school district said it appreciates the cooperation during the school year with all its efforts to keep students and staff safe. In keeping with those efforts, the district asked everyone to avoid unnecessary travel over the upcoming spring break holiday, which begins March 22.

“It is particularly crucial that everyone stay home and stay safe because we have important academic testing when students return. If a student travels and, upon return, has to go through the process of COVID testing and reducing contact with others, it may have an impact on their ability to test and may mean participating in make-up testing instead,” Axford said in a statement. 

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