Since classes began this year, Miami-Dade schools have tried desperately to keep kids away from the deadly Zika virus. They've handed out bug spray, encouraged students to wear long pants and shirts, and monitored for mosquito breeding grounds.
So it was curious to see a proposal from Miami-Dade County School Board member and county mayoral candidate Raquel Regalado to engage science teachers and students in collecting data "aiming to identify the areas where the mosquito species that spread Zika are prevalent."
The measure was first placed on the agenda for the School Board's September 7 meeting and then withdrawn. Regalado says that's because she was unable to attend a committee meeting. She plans to bring it to the Board's meeting next month and also mentions it in a Zika plan she shared on her Facebook page. (Regalado resigned her school board seat, but her resignation is not effective until November 21, the day before the next mayoral term begins.)
She also sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott encouraging him to support the initiative and provide any funding that might be needed.
Was it a mistake? In an interview with New Times, Regalado says nope. Students would not be involved in the actual data collection. The idea is to set up mosquito traps at schools to determine whether mosquitoes are infected with Zika. Miami-Dade Mosquito Control or CDC workers would monitor the traps, while kids would learn about the effort in class.
"In the case of students, we would expose ourselves to liability if they were able to interact with the data and the collection of it," Regalado says. "But they could see the pictures; they could see a video of it. There are lots of different ways they can experience it without the hands-on aspect."
Regalado says the idea stems from the fact the school district is the only government agency that has buildings throughout the county. She's critical of county Mayor Carlos Gimenez for his handling of mosquito control and Zika, saying there's been no countywide data collection for two years.
The school district would have to determine whether the proposal is feasible, Regalado says, adding that legal authorities have already questioned how the district can ensure the traps aren't in reach of children. She says she thinks that can be arranged with the county Mosquito Control, which says the traps are secure.
"It would be a matter of establishing a schedule and having everybody know this is where the traps and lures are," Regalado says, "and if they do find something, then getting back to the school system and saying we had positive results or negative results. That's the information our parents want, so I think it's very feasible."
As for students, she says, it's an opportunity to align the district's science, technology, engineering, and math curricula with everyday research that could make an impact in the community. It's also a way to deal with their fears about Zika and mosquitoes.
"They're reading about it; they're asking our teachers about it; they're concerned when they see the mosquitoes," Regalado says. "So I think seeing what a trap and a lure looks like and knowing that Mosquito Control is coming to those sites to check for those mosquitoes is sort of a real-world experience that happens in the classroom."
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