"Critical infrastructure employees": safety and capacity are at war in COVID schools

The Polk School District sent out the message linked here on Tuesday. Read the first four paragraphs below.

These paragraphs say the opposite of what they mean, which is that the district is making a "shift" in exposure/quarantine policy designed to limit the impact of quarantine on in-person school operations.

This "shift" is aimed at keeping COVID-exposed teachers and staff -- because they are "critical infrastructure employees" -- on site at schools, rather than having them quarantine at home. See if you can perceive that from the opening paragraphs:

Effective Sept. 1, Polk County Public Schools will begin utilizing the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s safety practices for critical infrastructure employees.

Under these guidelines, school district employees who are exposed at their work site and are asymptomatic will have a more stringent safety procedure in place.

Employees who live in a household with a person who has tested positive will continue to self-quarantine and not go to work.

“We are making this shift in conjunction with the Florida Department of Health in Polk County to ensure the safety of all our students and staff amid the ongoing pandemic,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd.

Put aside the total politicization of the CDC for a moment. It's pointless to debate something as obvious as gravity. Let's just take a look at the language used here in Polk County and how it distorts truth and meaning, whichever point-of-view you want to take on the virus. (And this is a leadership issue, not a PR issue. Don't shoot the messenger.)

An honest release to the public would read like this, additions in black; deletions in strike-through:

Effective Sept. 1, Polk County Public Schools will begin utilizing the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s newly-revised and politicized safety practices for critical infrastructure employees.

Under these guidelines, school district employees who are exposed at their work site and are asymptomatic may have a more stringent safety procedure in place not be subject to quarantine if exposed to a COVID case in their classroom or school setting.

Employees who live in a household with a person who has tested positive will continue to self-quarantine and not go to work.

“We are making this shift in conjunction with the Florida Department of Health in Polk County to ensure the safety of all our students and staff amid the ongoing pandemic,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd.

"We are making this shift in conjunction with the Florida Department of Health in Polk County because if we don't, we will not have the teaching and staff capacity that Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran demand for their political and personal interests," the Polk District said. "And above all things, we will comply with what our incompetent state government demands. Remember, Compliance First is our motto."

[Billy note: Again, to be clear, this is not a real quote. My alternative is designed to illustrate reality to the public, which it does much more honestly than the real quote.]

I spoke with Deputy Superintendent John Hill about this release on Wednesday morning; and he told me that "the shift" in quarantine policy gives staff the option to quarantine at home or return to class if asymptomatic. He said no staff exposed member is being forced to return to class.

I haven't seen that optional aspect anywhere in writing; so I urged him to double check that with Superintendent Byrd. But that is his position on the district's shift in quarantine policy. So you should know that if you're a teacher or staff member.

On this question of capacity versus safety, read this public statement sent out not long after the quarantine policy shift message. It concerns Lakeland High and Harrison, where multiple sources have reported unofficial quarantine numbers of roughly 20-25 teachers and 300-ish kids.

Dear LHS families,

Polk County Public Schools received an inquiry today from a local news outlet asking about our response to the recent COVID-19 cases impacting our school. We will respond to the inquiry, but we wanted to make sure you have factual information from us in advance.

Since the school year began, there have been a total of six COVID-19 cases that have impacted our campus and Harrison School for the Arts. As part of its standard procedure, the Florida Department of Health in Polk County has directed specific individuals to self-quarantine, which has resulted in a number of teachers having to temporarily leave campus.

Today, we relocated some students to the gymnasium so they could be spread out and supervised while continuing to do their work. This was done as a temporary measure while we have teachers out on quarantine. Some teachers have been able to continue working remotely while in quarantine.

We expect to have some teachers return tomorrow, and additional faculty are scheduled to return in the days ahead. We will continue to make adjustments as necessary while taking every possible precaution to ensure the safety of our students and staff.

Thank you for your patience and understanding as we work through these issues.

It seems rather clear that the first release relates closely to the second. And capacity isn't just a frontline teacher/employee issue; it's also a substitute teacher issue. I don't have any data at the moment on the availability of subs, but I suspect it isn't great.

I'll have more in coming weeks on this novel idea that education workers are "critical infrastructure employees." I spent the entire last five years trying to convince people of power of that reality so that we could build the capacity that is sorely lacking now. But they weren't terribly interested; and reaping and sowing is a thing, even for Ruling Class Club.

And as we move ahead, I think my most useful role will be to translate nonsense into reality for the public. And I look forward to it.