Central Florida school districts aren’t yet tracking vaccinated employees as cases surge

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — “Are you vaccinated?”

It’s an awkward and intrusive question, but some parents likely want an answer from their child’s teacher.

There are no Central Florida school districts currently tracking how many of its employees are vaccinated, even as COVID-19 cases surge across Florida.

“We have not, at this time, surveyed people,” Osceola County Superintendent Dr. Debra Pace told Investigative Reporter Daralene Jones.

READ: Seminole County Public Schools to require employees wear face masks, temporarily suspends visitors

Volusia County Superintendent, Dr. Scott Fritz told us his district has chosen to focus on encouraging employees to get vaccinated.

“We’ve sent them information on how to do that, where to go. As a superintendent, you haven’t asked me but, the more people who get vaccinated the better we’re going to feel about that. The guidelines for quarantine are a little more forgiving for those that are vaccinated than those that are not,” Dr. Fritz said.

Some districts across the state, including Orange County, will require employees to wear a mask, for now, but Gov. Ron DeSantis has given parents the option to decide whether they want their children to wear a mask. Districts that try to enforce mandates, DeSantis said, will lose state funding.

READ: President of Florida Education Association applauds schools adding mask mandates, defying governor

In Orange County, the district isn’t tracking employee vaccination, either.

But in a virtual meeting this week, the Orange County Superintendent told a group of business leaders about 40% of employees are vaccinated. We’re told that’s based on state department of health data gathered during contact tracing when an employee tests positive.

We caught up with the district’s Chief Communications Officer at a news conference, who told us the number is probably closer to 43% based on data collected by the Florida Department of Health, which conducts contact tracing when there’s a positive case. Jones asked why the district hasn’t conducted a voluntary survey to get more definitive data.

READ: OCPS to require employees, visitors to wear face masks while indoors

“I mean that’s not going to be a valid number if some are going to give it and some aren’t,” Scott Howat said.

The Florida Education Association told us a survey of 5,000 members statewide shows 80% are vaccinated. But its membership covers more than K-12 full-time teachers and includes support staff and higher education instructors.

And that 5,000 is still a very small percentage of the state’s 340,000 full-time K-12 teachers, about 30,000 of whom work in Central Florida schools. The Orange County union president told us that she encourages vaccination and wearing a mask but believes parents should be more worried about what’s not in the district’s updated COVID-19 safety manual.

READ: Mayor: Orange County COVID-19 vaccination rate increases as case numbers climb

“This district just gutted its safety procedures manual, taking it from 88 comprehensive pages to a mere 23,” Wendy Doromal said.

The Orange County School district believes it will gather a more definitive number through a $200 incentive being offered to all employees who provide proof of vaccination. That portal is still being set up. Osceola County is also offering its employees up to 10 days paid time off if they contract the virus while working and can provide proof of vaccination.