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With a goal of 100% of students learning in-person this coming school year, the Miami-Dade County school district reconvened its task force of public health and medical experts to see what it could do to make “normal” a reality again.
The district also took a hard look at existing COVID-19 protocols and quarantine procedures. No changes to existing rules were made during Tuesday’s meeting, which was held virtually via Zoom.
“It is our goal to begin to transition to that full modality with our summer learning program, which will be dramatically expanded compared to years past,” said Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
“It’s about the best way to teach kids,” he added. For parents who want to keep their children at home, Carvalho tweeted that they have the option of enrolling their child with Miami-Dade Online Academy. The district launched the academy in 2009 as its own online learning program.
Details on graduations
The group also discussed the protocols to make in-person graduations happen for the Class of 2021. Each graduate will receive tickets for only two guests who will sit in pods of two. Graduations will be livestreamed.
Graduates will receive their diploma covers — not their actual diplomas — at the other end of a 6-foot long table from their principal. There will be no handshakes, and masks are required for all participants and guests. “Massive staff” will be present to make sure all protocols are being followed.
Graduations will be held June 1 to June 9. Most of the graduations will be held around Florida International University and the Miami-Dade Youth Fairgrounds.
Also established on Thursday: The unlikelihood of mandating vaccines for staff and students.
Dr. Aileen Marty, an infectious disease expert at Florida International University who has been advising the school district and Miami-Dade County throughout the pandemic, said the COVID-19 vaccines cannot be required as they are under an emergency use authorization issued by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
But that could change, Marty explained, as Pfizer has spoken to the FDA about full licensure. That means that all other COVID-19 vaccines have to have efficacy rates as high as Pfizer’s vaccine, and governments could enforce requiring those vaccines. The Pfizer vaccine has shown to be 95 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID infection after two doses.
“Once Pfizer gets full licensure, I will be so happy,” Marty said. “We have to wait until there is that status of being full licensure because it’s the best thing that can happen for our nation and for our school system.”
COVID vaccines will not be required for coming school year
Carvalho said he did not foresee the district mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for staff or students for the 2021-22 school year.
“I do not envision that to be a reality even going into next school year,” he said. And if it does become a reality, it would be a decision out of the Florida Department of Health. Vaccinations for other diseases like chicken pox and measles are required to attend public school in Florida.
Linda Brown, a nurse practitioner consultant, reminded the group that vaccines are recommended, not required.
The group on Thursday discussed shorter quarantines, but the 14-day quarantine remains in place for staff and students. Medical experts discussed shortening that quarantine down to 10 days without a COVID-19 test, or seven days with a test done on day five.
“The faster the better,” said Dr. Benny Rub, a local pediatrician. “I think we need to minimize the amount they [students] stay home with the proper precautions,” and ensure the whole workforce gets vaccinated.
Marty strongly supported shorter quarantines if testing is involved. She suggested regularly testing students and staff and stressed that 70% of Miami-Dade’s COVID cases are of the UK variant.
“I sympathize with everything that you’ve said,” Marty said. “Children need to be in school — as long as there’s testing. Not without testing.”
Brown said testing children every three to five days wasn’t practical. And Dr. Lisa Gwynn, a pediatrician and medical director for the Pediatric Mobile Clinic at the University of Miami, said up to 75% of children do not show any symptoms.
Gwynn said the Pfizer vaccine is 100% effective in teenagers. “It’s extremely hopeful that vaccinated kids will be very well protected,” she said.
The district also floated the idea of increasing ridership on buses to two students per seat, the norm, compared to the one student per seat measure currently in place. Experts warned against it, citing younger students’ inability to keep to themselves.