As COVID-19 numbers dwindle, some Martin students return to the classroom | Gil Smart

opinionGil Smart Treasure Coast NewspapersPublished 1:07 PM EDT Sep 15, 2020As I type this, my 10-year-old son

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As I type this, my 10-year-old son is sitting to my right, "remote learning" today's school lessons in between sniffles.

We think he has allergies. Maybe a cold. Sunday afternoon he started complaining about a sore throat, and the red flags shot up.

He's been attending brick-and-mortar classes since school started Aug. 12. That means there's a chance he's been exposed to the grippe — "corona," as most people call it these days.

The sore throat persisted into Monday, and though he had no fever and seemed otherwise OK I texted his teacher to say he wouldn't be in class. Any other year I'd have dropped him off and expected him to tough it out; he was hardly at death's door.

This year, though, parents just can't do that. If the kid's at all sick, you need to keep him home.

It's the only way this experiment is going to work.

But I dare say — so far, the experiment does seem to be working.

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The big fear when Martin kids, teachers and staff went back to school was we were setting up "superspreader" situations. Cram kids into poorly ventilated classrooms and surely the virus would race like wildfire through the school.


More than 500 students have been sent home at one point or another over the past month to quarantine after possible exposure to the virus. But according to Renay Rouse, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health in Martin County, the department "is not seeing transmission of COVID-19 within the school setting." 

That is, no new outbreaks have been traced to the classroom; the virus has not burned through the schools.

Now, caveats galore; just because it hasn't doesn't mean it won't.

Everything could yet come crashing down.

But for now, can we at least admit the worst fears haven't come true?

And — being cautiously optimistic — maybe they won't?

Famous last words, I know. But in fact, Martin schools are actually seeing a slow trickle of kids who started the year at home come back into the classroom.

Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. was the deadline for Martin County parents who wanted their kids to transition from home to school — or from school to home — to fill out a "learning option change request form." As of Monday afternoon, 36 hours before the cutoff, spokesperson Jennifer DeShazo said the district had received 202 such forms.

She was unable to break down how many kids want back in the classroom and how many want out. But based on the some other numbers she provided, I'm going to guess there's more of the former.

As the school year began, 10,381 students — 64.2 percent of the total — were signed up for in-person, "traditional" classes. The other 5,792 (35.8 percent) opted for "remote," at-home learning.

Since then, an additional 91 kids have enrolled in Martin County schools. As of Monday afternoon, this was the updated breakdown:

  • 10,756 students (64.69 percent) traditional
  • 5,872 (35.31 percent) remote.

That is, there's been an ever-so-slight uptick in the number of kids whose parents say: You know what, we think you'll be OK at school.

Indeed, one of my 10-year-old's friends returned to the classroom a few weeks ago. My son was thrilled; the more the merrier.

And my own 13-year-old middle school daughter, who began the year online, returned to the classroom Monday. We'd initially kept her home because it seemed the virus was more dangerous to older kids than younger ones. And she'd have to change classes, and that seemed to present more opportunities for infection.

But many of her friends were on campus and she wanted to go back. A 13-year-old girl should not be cooped up inside the house, limited to digital contact with her friends.

Yes, we still worry about the virus. But in the long run — as I've said all along — the social isolation we inflict on kids in the name of keeping them safe could be as big a problem as the virus itself.

So look. None of this has been "solved," the pandemic has not disappeared, we need to keep wearing the masks, keep our social distance, err where we can on the side of caution.

But neither should we pretend the sky is falling to the extent it was a few months ago.

Between Aug. 31 and Sept. 13, Martin County averaged 17 new cases per day, and on four occasions during that 14-day period — Sept. 5, 6, 7 and 12 — there were fewer than 10 new infections.

Two months earlier, during the 14-day period from June 30 to July 13, the county averaged 57.8 new cases per day.

The positivity rate has plunged. Deaths have slowed. Hospital beds have opened up.

Now's no time to get cocky and say we're "winning" this fight. There could be a second wave.

But can't we admit the situation has improved?

My guess is that's why more parents are sending their kids back to school. Sure, they could yank them back home at the first sign of real trouble.

But at this point, I think kudos have to go out to the Martin County School District, it's teachers and staff for the fact that however many kids get quarantined out of an abundance of caution, there hasn't been "real trouble," at least not yet.

And let's hope that's one thing about this virus that doesn't change.

Gil Smart is a TCPalm columnist and a member of the Editorial Board. His columns reflect his opinion; if you like what you read please consider subscribing to TCPalm. Gil can be reached at, by phone at (772) 223-4741 or via Twitter at @TCPalmGilSmart.
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