In late summer, as the Flagler County school district was preparing to start the delayed school year, form letters began to be issued to certain people whenever a positive coronavirus case involving a student, faculty member or employee was confirmed.
Letters reporting at least 215 such cases have circulated so far, each like the one that, late yesterday, announced two positive cases affecting students at Buddy Taylor Middle School. The letters, generally emailed, go to everyone in the school or the department affected, refer to protocols to be followed and include information about Covid-19. The frequency, lack of specificity and similarity between letters has left recipients more jaded than informed.
“We’ve got a lot of feedback from those letters,” David Bossardet, the school district’s point man on coronavirus safety, told members of the Flagler County School Board at a workshop Tuesday. “Some people are sick of getting them, some people could care less, some people call those extra-anxiety forms. There’s also questions on when you send out these letters, what time of day. We’re getting confirmations throughout the day.” So there’s been times when households have received letters several times a day.
The district will not entirely discontinue the letters, but it will discontinue most of them and replace the notification system with what it refers to as a “dashboard” that will be published on the school board’s website and updated there daily around 5 p.m. The dashboard will go live on Jan. 4, right after winter break.
Currently, the board maintains a relatively scant page where, once a week, the number of confirmed positive cases are listed, but in raw form and with even less specificity than the letters.
The total weekly number of employees who have tested positive district-wide is provided, so is the total number of students, but the numbers are not associated with any schools or facilities. Rather, the schools and departments affected are listed in a separate group, making it impossible to tell whether there were five cases at a specific site or just one, or whether one school had more students than staff affected, and so on. That breakdown, however, is provided daily by a Twitter account that calls itself “Rogue Flagler Schools,” and that emerged in late summer as a source of greater transparency, with more detail. (FlaglerLive then and now has continued to verify the source material used for the site, each of whose figures is documented with an original notification letter.)
It may appear that the district is at least in part changing its notification protocols in response to Rogue. But before Rogue went up, Bob Snyder told FlaglerLive in late summer that he and the district were working on a daily dashboard to provide almost precisely the sort of information that Rogue ended up providing. The dashboard idea somehow was killed with no explanation other than that the district reverted to providing just the weekly, general numbers, while the state Department of Health ordered its county departments not to share any information that was school-specific.
The numbers the district has been providing have clearly not satisfied requests for transparency, so the district has been “exploring some other ways to be transparent and improve our communications,” as Bossardet put it. The dashboard is the result.
With the rise in cases in the state and in Flagler, Bossardet said, “we’ve had additional requests as far as, can we be more transparent, not only in what’s happening at my son or daughter’s school, but what’s happening throughout the district.” There are concerns about whether to send a child to VPK, for example. In other words, parents who send their child to one school may also need to know what’s happening at another site.
The dashboard would replace principals or directors having to send out the letter. It will look almost identical to the wording of the letter, adapted to the website. Bossardet would work with the department of health, which would fill in the daily numbers as of a specific time–say, 4 p.m. “That way if you choose to look and see, it’s there, all the information is there,” he said. “If you don’t want to be bothered, it causes you anxiety or if you just don’t care, you don’t have to go look and we’re not bombarding you with emails. It also allows for our community to know this is the most accurate information because we’re getting it directly from the Department of Health.”
The dashboard will not indicate positive cases by grade levels, only by location. Nor will it indicate how many students or staff members are quarantined or which classes or activities have been shut down for quarantine.
The dashboard will be developed over the next week and a half. It will also include Department of Health links to the latest testing sites and, presumably–and eventually-vaccination sites or any other information deemed relevant by the department and the district.
The counts will be site-specific, so if there is an employee who works at the Buddy Taylor-Wadsworth Elementary cafeteria, for example, each school would have the same employee counted as positive, but with an asterisk to denote the double count.
As for school buses, which are obviously not site-specific, it’ll be similar to what’s being done now: letter notification.
School Board member Cheryl Massaro asked that the Flagler County Youth Center, on the campus of Flagler Palm Coast High School, and Carver Gym in Bunnell–both sites are frequented by students–be added to the list of tracked sites.
“I think a dashboard is great,” School Board member Colleen Conklin said. “At least you’re in control of the information and sharing that information and keeping updated on the daily.” But she asked that the dashboard include a running, cumulative total of its numbers. That will not be happening: the administration is sticking with just a daily total.