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Walton County School District parent concerned about COVID-19 protocols

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

PAXTON — A Walton County School District parent's Twitter comments on coronavirus-related concerns surrounding a school district basketball tournament are based on a misunderstanding of the district's coronavirus protocols, according to School Superintendent Russell Hughes.

The parent, posting on Twitter as Ronnie McBrayer, wrote Tuesday that he and his wife had gone to Paxton School on Monday to watch his son, a member of the Freeport High School basketball team, play in the tournament.

"We had passes for the game, clearly marked, showing that only 50 such passes were issued for each team," McBrayer wrote. "We understood that only a 100 or so people would be in attendance, and standard social distancing and wearing of masks would be modus operandi. However, what we found upon our arrival was a disaster. Some five hundred people were packed shoulder to shoulder in the Paxton gym."

More:Walton schools see issues with COVID-19 protocols

"My wife and I left immediately," McBrayer continued. "It was a violation of every school policy related to Covid. No social distancing. No masks. No crowd control. I got home and emailed the superintendent of schools and every single (school) board member."

McBrayer went on to write that Tuesday tournament play was "a carbon copy replay of Monday evening. Packed gym. No controls. Caution to the wind. Poor example for students and community. I’m ashamed of the lack of concern."

Farther down in his Twitter thread, McBrayer predicted "an exponential rise in school (COVID-19) cases over the rest of the month" and called the tournament "... a failure of the worst sort."

McBrayer could not be reached via Twitter on Wednesday for comment. 

A basketball tournament this week at Walton County's Paxton School had a Walton County School District parent concerned about how the district is handling the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Hughes didn't have any specific information on the circumstances of Tuesday's tournament play. He did, however, explain that under the district's current COVID-19 protocols, the 50-ticket limit is imposed only on fans of visiting teams and not on fans of both teams, as McBrayer had apparently believed.  

Hughes said McBrayer's estimate of Monday's crowd size was somewhat inflated. According to a count made at the game, there were 361 people in the Paxton School gym on Monday night, Hughes said.

Hughes noted Wednesday that the Monday attendance count of 361 people was within the district's COVID-19 protocols, which limit school gyms to 35 percent of capacity. The Paxton School gym can accommodate 1,200 people, according to Hughes. Thus, a recorded attendance of 361 people would represent just slightly more than 30% of gym capacity.

More:No masks in Walton County, commissioners reject mask resolution with unanimous vote

Also according to Hughes, the school district's allowable capacity for sporting events in gyms was reduced just days ago from 50% to the new 35% limit.

Other COVID-19 protocols used in connection with the basketball tournament, according to Hughes, included checking the temperatures of people entering the gym, along with having signage posted to remind people of the advisability of socially distancing themselves, which the 35% occupancy limit is supposed to facilitate. Signs urging people to wear masks also were posted.

But Hughes acknowledged there likely were people at the tournament, as McBrayer noted, who weren't socially distancing or wearing masks. But in the absence of any state or local mask mandates, the School District has been relying on adults and other spectators to make prudent decisions on their own, Hughes added.

However, Hughes hinted strongly Wednesday that he and the School District might establish even stricter COVID-19 protocols, potentially to the point of eliminating spectators at sporting events.

While the School District is "trying to get some normalcy" into student's lives by allowing attendance at extracurricular activities, Hughes said he won't hesitate to further limit or halt that attendance.

"I'm not going to put my children (WCSD students) in jeopardy," he said.

Hughes also pointed with some pride to the district's performance in connection with COVID-19. According to district figures as of Nov. 12, the latest date available, there were three positive COVID-19 cases among district students and staff. Since opening on Aug. 17, the district has recorded 116 positive COVID-19 cases, according to its figures.

But also as of Nov. 12, 25 students and staff members were quarantined as a result of on-campus exposure to COVID-19. Since August, a total of 242 students and staff have been placed under quarantine for COVID-19 exposure.

Similarly, 10 students or staff members were quarantined as of Nov. 12 for off-campus exposure to COVID-19, while 142 students or staff members have been quarantined for off-campus exposure since August.

As of Nov. 12, nine district schools were experiencing positive COVID-19 cases or exposures. Since August, according to district data, 20 district schools have had either positive COVID-19 cases or exposures.