KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. – An outbreak of COVID-19 at a public high school on Key Biscayne has the Miami-Dade teachers’ union and Miami-Dade County School District pleading for the community to be more responsible when outside of schools regarding the novel coronavirus.
According to a report in the Miami Herald, MAST Academy quarantined 25 teachers and more than 200 students after at least a dozen cases were reported this week. The newspaper attributed the numbers to the school’s principal Derick McKoy.
“I was surprised, but I did find that a lot of people around me were testing positive, so I wasn’t very surprised,” 11th grader Isabella Perez told Local 10 News on Monday. “I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know it would be to such an extent.”
In a statement sent to Local 10 News, United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats attributed the rise in COVID-19 cases at MAST Academy on community negligence.
“The virus is not being propagated within our schools, but rather being brought in from outside and putting everyone at risk. The message of personal and community responsibility does not seem to be resonating with our citizens,” Hernandez-Mats said in the statement.
The newspaper reported that McKoy called families who had students in the school telling them that MAST was the No. 1 Miami-Dade County School in the central region for the most COVID-19 positive cases, and blamed the cases on students having parties, get-togethers and sleepovers without masks.
McKoy also sent an email to parents with a similar message. A copy of that email can be seen at the bottom of this story.
“Out of the school, they’re doing, like, parties at the beach and those things -- like, hanging out and they’re not wearing masks, so they’re going to get COVID there,” 7th grader Lucas Turletti said.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools maintains schools can remain safe, saying in part:
“Close social gatherings or interactions with members outside of one’s household have been found to be the leading causes of spread, not in-person schooling.”
Some students also told Local 10 News they felt their peers weren’t taking precautions seriously, including while in school.
“I see kids pull down their masks and get in really close groups together, and the school tries to control that a lot by stopping it, but you really can’t control people once they leave the premises,” 9th grader Pedro Conway said.
The school district requires everyone in a classroom to quarantine if one person in the class tests positive for the virus.
According to the school’s dashboard, MAST Academy has a total of 46 cases, which is the tenth most of schools in Miami-Dade County.
Below are the five schools in Miami-Dade County with the most positive cases of COVID-19:
Eugenia B. Thomas K-8 Center - 67
Coral Reef Senior High School - 65
TERRA Enviromental Research Institute - 62
Ferguson Senior High School - 58
Miami Senior High School - 57
The problem isn’t exclusive to public schools. At Gulliver Prep, the president told Local 10 News’ Hatzel Vela that after seven students tested positive last Monday, the entire junior and senior class were moved to remote learning for 14 days.
The school believes the cases are related to off-campus gatherings.
It was just last week that a CDC report said that data showed there is little evidence that in-person learning at schools greatly contributes to the spread of the virus.
The Miami-Dade School District followed up on that information with the following release:
“As the CDC reported earlier this week, schools can remain safe as long as COVID-19 safety protocols and mitigation strategies are in place. Since the reopening of schools last fall, Miami-Dade County Public Schools has been committed to protecting the wellbeing of our students and employees by following public health guidelines. Close social gatherings or interactions with members outside of one’s household have been found to be the leading causes of spread, not in-person schooling. The District continues to urge our community to do their part to keep our schools free of COVID-19.”
The statement came from Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, Chief Communications and Community Engagement Officer for Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
Email from MAST Academy Principal Derick McKoy:
This is Dr. McKoy, principal of MAST Academy calling with a very important message. COVID-19 has impacted our school in a very negative way. MAST Academy is the number one school in Central Region with the most number of COVID positive cases. This week alone we had 12 positive cases that resulted in me having to quarantine over 200 students and 25 teachers. After investigating, I discovered that students are having parties, get togethers as they call them, and sleepovers. This occurs without the responsibility of wearing a mask. I cannot control what occurs outside of our school walls, but when the impact send home 25 of our teachers this is unacceptable behavior. We have to ensure that our students are constantly being responsible for each other, and I need each of you to monitor this vigilantly. Every single student that is positive or exposed to another positive person has to be processed by the principal utilizing a 3-page report. At our current rate, this is an unsurmountable task. We can turn a blind eye and continue doing what we have always done or do something about it to change our current status. There is a sense of urgency here, and I need all our families to have a discussion with your children about how to be more responsible, so that we can stabilize and provide the quality education they so richly deserve. At the risk of leaving a message of negativity, I want to end by saying that my only desire is to leave MAST Academy in a better place than I found it. Each of you can also help to do the same. This should be your pledge. Thank you for understanding, and I hope you have a good evening. God Bless!