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First Positive COVID-19 Cases Confirmed In Miami-Dade Public Schools

A student gathers her things as she prepares to enter Henry S. West Laboratory School in Coral Gables on Oct. 5.
Carl Juste/Miami Herald
A student gathers her things as she prepares to enter Henry S. West Laboratory School in Coral Gables on Oct. 5.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools and local news outlets have reported at least three cases of COVID-19 among students in the district, and the superintendent said there might be more.

This story was updated at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 8.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools has recorded its first cases of the coronavirus since beginning its phased reopening earlier this week.

One student at Downtown Doral Charter Elementary School, another at William Lehman Elementary School in Kendall, and a third at Charles D. Wyche Jr. Elementary in Miami Gardens, have tested positive for COVID-19 — according to the school district and local news reports.

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Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said there are other potential positive cases awaiting confirmation.

"It was almost inevitable that as we reopen schools, some of these cases would happen," Carvalho told reporters Thursday. "That is why I'm appealing to our workforce and to our parents to be vigilant. And if children are sick, if they have symptoms, please do not send them to schools."

The Doral charter school alerted parents about a student's positive case in a letter dated Oct. 6, WSVN Channel 7 reported.

"Your child may have been in contact with someone at Downtown Doral Preschool and Elementary who was subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19," the letter said, according to the outlet.

The letter stated that the school facilities were closed and cleaned, and “those that came in close contact with this student … are being asked to quarantine for 14 days after exposure," according to WSVN.

Charter schools are technically public schools and are funded with taxpayer dollars but are typically operated by private organizations. However, in this case, the school is managed by the district, although it has more autonomy than a traditional public school.

The child who tested positive at Charles D. Wyche Jr. Elementary is a student with special needs who came into contact with a teacher, according to the Miami Herald.

Meanwhile, the district announced the positive case at William Lehman Elementary on Thursday morning.

That student will remain home until the county health department determines it is safe to return. People who have been in close contact with the student have been notified and will also stay home until they are cleared, according to a news release from the district.

“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 news release said.

"Eight master custodians reported to the school at 3:30 this morning and, using electrostatic equipment, sanitized the entire building including all rooms, hallways, high-touch areas. Any area where people lean, sit or touch," Natalia Zea, a spokeswoman for the district, wrote in an email on Thursday afternoon. "They wrapped up at 6 this morning, well ahead of anyone arriving at the building."

The student did not contract the coronavirus at school, according to Zea.

Carvalho, the superintendent, said other cases might be announced soon.

"We are collaborating with the Department of Health to identify the circumstances and the possible confirmation of one or more cases" at other schools in the district, he told reporters Thursday.

The school district has launched a dashboard to report positive cases of COVID-19 among students and employees. It does not include charter schools.

In an emailed statement, United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats wrote that the cases illustrate "why UTD was concerned about the rush to reopen schools."

"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 wrote. "We ask the community to please continue taking every precaution possible, including monitoring their family’s health closely, limiting the number of interactions they have with others outside of their home, keeping children home if they are sick, and whenever possible, providing their children and teachers with any additional resources for personal sanitation use in classrooms, such as antibacterial wipes, soap and spray."

By tomorrow, about half of the district’s roughly 260,000 students enrolled in traditional public schools will have returned, while the other half will continue learning remotely, per the choices of their parents. The youngest students and those with disabilities were welcomed back into classrooms Monday, and some elementary, middle and high school students returned yesterday. The rest will arrive tomorrow.

Some teachers have complained of myriad problems ranging from inadequate personal protective equipment, broken air conditioning systems, online education portal crashes and internet outages, and inconsistent compliance with mask mandates.

Broward County Public Schools begins its own staggered reopening tomorrow. It is the last school district in Florida to reopen classrooms since all districts statewide closed in mid-March to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Public schools in Palm Beach and Monroe counties have been open for weeks. According to the district’s dashboards, as of Thursday, there have been 52 cases reported in Palm Beach and five in Monroe.

UPDATED: This is a developing story that has been updated with new information.

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
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