More than 100 Palmetto High students potentially exposed to COVID-19 by teacher

The hallways of Palmetto High School are missing quite a few students. More than 100 are home in COVID-19 quarantine, and teachers are partly to blame.

"I would say it was a perfect storm," said Dr. Scott Hopes of the Manatee County School Board. "It was one of those teachable moments where you had indiscretions or failures of following protocol from teachers down to the classroom and it resulted in too many students getting to practice their e-learning skills for a few days," he said. 

The failure, he said, did not come from district practices, but from a pair of teachers. 

"We had staff members that were not socially distancing during lunch," Hopes explained. “Another became infected and that person was not aware that they were infected. They were teaching six classes during the day. They were not keeping a current seating chart and were not socially distancing six feet or greater from students during the majority of that class period." 

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Without knowing for certain how many students came in direct contact with the infected teacher, the district erred on the side of caution. More than 100 students were sent home to quarantine. 

Hopes said this is a mistake that should not be repeated. He added that the school district is working on creating a COVID-dashboard that will allow parents and students to see where cases of COVID-19 are occurring at schools and the number of those infected. 

"This is an opportunity to identify those gaps, learn from those mistakes and ensure that we have actions in place to avoid it from occurring again," he said. 

In a phone message sent to parents and staff, Palmetto High School Principal Carl Auckerman said:

“Palmetto High School families and employees, I am calling to update you on a confirmed case of COVID-19 on our campus that I first informed you about yesterday. The case resulted in an abnormal number of students being quarantined from our campus for a period of 14 days.

"The reason for the number of students quarantined was due to the fact that the school did not have up-to-date seating charts for each class. As a result, the Department of Health epidemiologist, working in conjunction with the District’s Operations Center, was unable to clearly identify those students who had direct exposure to the confirmed case. The majority of the students quarantined were sent home out of an extreme abundance of caution because the contact tracing could not formally exclude them from direct exposure.

"As a result of this case, we have made sure seating charts are produced in each classroom so that the Department of Health can do a more proficient job of contact tracing when necessary.

"According to the last date of known exposure, students on quarantine should be able to return to school as early as Thursday, September 10 as long as they are not exhibiting any COVID-19 related symptoms or awaiting the results of a COVID-19 test. By the way, it is important to note that if an individual is placed on quarantine, a negative test result during the 14 days does not allow the individual to return to school or work. They must complete the 14 days and be symptom-free to return. In the meantime, those students on quarantine can continue their studies through eLearning. Please call the school if you have questions pertaining to your child’s schoolwork or return-to-school status.

"Please note that we continue to take mitigation measures at our school including taking temperatures, wearing masks, asking symptom-related questions of all students and staff daily, cleaning and disinfecting daily and limiting access to our campus. Most importantly, if a student or staff member feels sick or believes they have symptoms, please stay home until you are symptom-free. Thank you, and we will continue to update you as warranted.” 

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If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

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