Thursday, October 15, 2020
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The Villages

Villages Charter School stops reporting COVID-19 cases as outbreak hits

Despite an outbreak of COVID-19 among students and staff, The Villages Charter School is no longer reporting the number of new cases of the potentially deadly virus at its facilities to the Sumter County School District.

The decision to stop reporting daily COVID-19 numbers – like every local school funded by taxpayer money – comes at the height of an apparent outbreak involving eight students and three staff members. It’s also forced about 80 students to quarantine at home and since several of the victims are members of The Villages High School’s football team, this past Friday’s game against Leesburg High School was canceled and the game scheduled for next Friday against South Sumter High School also has been shelved.

The charter school originally was included when the school district’s daily COVID-19 webpage was launched at the beginning of the school year. The school quickly shot to the top of the chart and in mid-September was leading the district with 12 cases.

But that changed this past week amid the outbreak, when Charter School Director of Education Randy McDaniel apparently elected to just report the new cases to The Villages Developer-owned Daily Sun. That decision clearly could hamper and possibly endanger the many parents – a large portion of whom live outside the newspaper’s circulation area – residents and local business owners and employees who deal with students and staff from the school but don’t subscribe to the print product.

A Sumter County Schools official said Friday that the district stopped receiving the charter school’s numbers for students – the school wasn’t reporting staff numbers since they aren’t district employees – after being informed that they were “doing their own contact tracing and exclusions.”

The move by the charter school means that the facility is the only public school in the tri-county area that doesn’t have its COVID-19 numbers reported on local school district websites. All of the other Sumter County schools are reported on that district’s site, while Lake and Marion county schools also report their cases on a weekly basis and include the names of the schools involved.

Numbers from The Villages Charter Schools are included on a daily report released by the Florida Department of Health, but those numbers clearly lag behind the actual reporting. On Friday, that report showed just four cases among students – three of whom were showing symptoms – between Sept. 6-Oct. 3. The report also noted that one student with symptoms tested positive between Sept. 27-Oct. 3.

Those eight new cases among students at the charter school would mean that at least 20 positive results have been reported at the facilities that are located near the Southern Trace and Buffalo Ridge shopping plazas, which are frequented by both students and staff members. The rest of the Sumter County School District is reporting just 13 cases since schools opened Aug. 24. Those cases have been identified in the e-learning program, Wildwood Elementary School, Webster Elementary School, South Sumter Middle School, South Sumter High School and Lake Panasoffkee Elementary School.

In addition, the Lake County School District is reporting 30 cases among 18 students and 12 employees, with 159 students and 26 employees in quarantine. The Marion County School District also is reporting 30 cases among 23 students and seven employees, with 336 students and 18 employees being quarantined.

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