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Lee schools closed a classroom at Gateway Elementary due to COVID-19

A Gateway Elementary School classroom has been quarantined, becoming the first in Lee County to be shutdown this school year due to the COVID-19 virus.

The Fort Myers school alerted families of the case-positive situation last Thursday, with students told not to return to school for 14 days, reported school district spokesperson Rob Spicker.

Since the first day of school on Aug. 31, the district confirmed at least 21 positive cases at its locations.

An exact number of how many positive cases are tied to the public schools is unknown. The district’s online dashboard shares when a school sends home a letter to families about a positive case being reported on campus, and does not explain how many cases are on campus, if the case is related to students or employees, or how many quarantines are required.

The school district would not provide the grade or number of students and employees at Gateway that has been impacted by the quarantine, citing medical and student privacy laws.

On Friday, the in-person class shifted to the Lee Home Connect learning model, where students log in from home for live, virtual instruction with a teacher from their school. The classroom will be sanitized and go through a deep clean to prepare for the students to return for face-to-face instruction once the quarantine order is lifted, school officials said.

Just shy of 800 students are enrolled in Gateway Elementary this year. It serves students from pre-K to fifth grade.

Although it is considered out-of-date, the district’s back-to-school commitment survey showed that 351 students, or about 44%, signed up for in-person instruction this fall at the school.

More:How Lee County schools are planning to handle COVID-19-like symptoms on campus

One of the portable classrooms at Gateway High School. The campus is be housed in portables between Lehigh Senior High School and Varsity Lakes Middle School while construction finishes up on the campus in Gateway. The students will socially distance.

Now in its third week of school, enrollment in the district’s four learning models continues to change.

The school year began Aug. 31, with the final headcount at the end of the day Sept. 4 showing:

  • 41,871 students were in face-to-face instruction

  • 36,262 students were in Lee Home Connect

  • 6,047 students were in Lee Virtual School

  • 2,571 were in parent-led homeschool

Lee’s public schools, including charters, serve over 96,000 students. About 85,000 attend the district’s 97 traditional school sites. It employs over 12,000 employees, including around 6,000 teachers. 

More:Lee schools: how will the district make the call to close a classroom, school or entire district?

The Lee school district won’t consider a full school closure until a campus reaches a case-positive rate of 5%. That rate will need to reach 25% before an entire attendance zone or the full county is shut down. 

For individual classrooms, the situation depends on the age group.

While middle and high schools will be better able to pinpoint exactly which students and employees need to quarantine after a possible exposure, elementary classrooms could close with as little as one or two positive cases. This is because it is harder to guarantee younger students followed mask-wearing and physical distancing protocols.

The district is one of a few in the state to share with the public when COVID-19 cases are reported in the schools.

The online dashboard shows the date and campus a positive case was reported with a letter home to families. It will not distinguish if the case is related to students or employees, nor will it address the number of quarantines ordered through contact tracing.

Also, each alert letter could be tied to more than one case.

The first letter to be sent home about a positive case was at Bonita Springs High School, which reported a positive case on Aug. 31, the first day of school. 

More:Lee school district launches tracker for confirmed COVID-19 cases on campus. Four listed today.

At the close of the second week of school, 19 alerts about positive cases had been sent to families. Two more alerts came out Monday:

  • G. Weaver Hipps Elementary School in Lehigh Acres
  • Cape Coral High School

Both were dated Sunday.

Editor’s note:

To gauge the pandemic’s impact on educational institutions in Southwest Florida, The News-Press and Naples Daily News are tracking confirmed cases tied to area schools. 

If we’re missing confirmed cases, please forward the message to education reporters Pamela McCabe ([email protected]) and Rachel Fradette ([email protected]).

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