Eight hours in, two decisions made. Still lots of questions.
The Alachua County School Board held an 8-hour board meeting Wednesday. Here's what we learned:
Face masks in schools
Students will be required to wear face masks in schools after parents and teachers demanded a safer way to return to classrooms at last week's ACPS workshop.
All students will be asked to wear masks for the health and safety of their peers, but students who don’t comply will not be disciplined, said Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent, Karen Clarke. Those with special needs and health issues will be accommodated, said Donna Kidweld, the director of exceptional student education. She said accommodations haven’t been determined yet.
COVID-19 in Lake Forest Elementary
A teacher tested positive for COVID-19 at Lake Forest Elementary’s Jumpstart program, a summer bridge course for students that need or want schooling.
Superintendent Clarke said the interim principal called the families of students in contact with the infected teacher Monday. All other families received letters the following day. The students weren’t required to quarantine and returned to the classroom Wednesday.
New first day of school
All public schools in Florida are required to open their doors in August, according to a state mandate.
ACPS initially planned to start Aug. 10 to allow the week of Aug. 3 for teacher pre-planning, a time to make lessons for the first few weeks. After opening the workshop for public comment on this notion, the board came up with several options to alter the start date to allow for better training for teachers and staff.
Options included keeping the original start date, or starting Aug. 17, Aug. 24, or Aug. 31, all with built-in COVID-19 safety training days and pre-plan for teachers. The board voted to push the start date back to August 24, allowing time for both pre-planning days and up to five paid days of COVID-19 training, they said.
The number of days for teachers in training and their pay rate will be determined at the Tuesday budget meeting, according to Eileen Roy, the school board chair.
Parent and teacher reactions
Carly Simons, a mother of three ACPS students, said her children will continue remote learning despite the option to return to the classroom.
“I lost my husband to cancer,” she said. “I have no interest in losing anyone else.”
Many teachers also called in support of the delay and even said they recommended the school board continue digital-only learning.
Margaret Scarborough, an Alachua County nurse, said she feels that keeping the students safe at school is unrealistic. During the meeting, she said she kept an eye on who touched their face.
“Every one of you, but one, failed,” she said. “This disease is not a joke.”
She suggested that the school board follow precedents of other academic institutions.
“If we are to return to campus, we should be looking at what UF and Santa Fe are doing,” she said. “They started planning back in the spring and are looking at something much more comprehensive.”
Megan Collins, a mother of three ACPS students, said the risk of COVID-19 spreading is greater because a large number of students come from two-household families.
“Two 11-year-old girls in our state have already died,” she said. “To ignore this fact is to be an ostrich and stick your head in the sand. You are debating online while putting our students, families and faculty in harm's way.”
However, not all were against reopening.
Hank Rone is a former teacher and coach, as well as a parent to an ACPS middle schooler.
He said that his sixth grade son needs to be in the brick-and-mortar setting—switching classes, playing sports and interacting with his peers.
Rone said he knows he and his fellow coaches should have cleaned equipment more thoroughly in the years before the pandemic, but said they’re now dedicated to creating the safest environment for their teams.
Carolynn Nath was opposed to delaying the start date.
Nath said schools should follow other Gainesville youth programs and camps who have successfully followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines. She said her children have been attending in-person programs since March without being exposed to COVID-19.
“Families need it,” she said. “With the proposed delay, this creates significant hardships for families who would need to secure care for their children for an additional two weeks.”