DUVAL COUNTY, Fla. – The Duval County School Board voted Tuesday morning to move forward with a multi-million dollar plan to install protective barriers on all student desks in the district.
The six school board members present for Tuesday’s special meeting were unanimous in the decision.
The idea is part of a resolution to get children back in school buildings while lowering the risk for the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The district said the barriers will be an added layer of protection in addition to masks which will be required in certain situations. The transparent screens will allow students to remove masks from their faces for the majority of the school day while they are at their desks, the district said.
“The screens are not the be-all, end-all. We are continuing to add a puzzle piece to try to create a safer environment, not only for our students but our employees as well,” said Superintendent Diana Greene.
Greene said if the face-covering requirement issued by the city on Monday is still in place when school begins in August, students could be required to wear face coverings at all times when indoors.
Greene said that elementary schools will be a priority for installing the barriers and the district could be looking at around 120,000 total barriers needed for all levels.
The district has more than 6,000 classrooms, with a varying number of desks inside each.
The district estimates the plan for the barriers will cost about $4 million but said it would get reimbursed for the cost of the barriers through the CARES Act.
Tuesday’s vote approves a contract for the transparent screens with Drummond Press, Inc. and Load King Manufacturing Company, two Jacksonville-based companies, from June 30 through July 31, 2021.
The district has already spent more than $10.2 million since April 1 on coronavirus-reactive measures. The $10.2 million includes the cost incurred to move the district to distance learning in March.
More than $9 million of that has gone to items labeled GSA, which covers the district’s bus vendor. Vendors have been delivering meals and instructional packets.
Members of the school board and the district said all of the plans laid out in recent weeks could change at a moment’s notice as the number of COVID-19 infections and local mandates continues to fluctuate.
“In the last two weeks, we have grown from 1,900 cases to now we’re about to hit over 6,000, that is very scary, and I don’t see the slowdown coming, and we’re just trying to be prepared for when August hits,” Greene said.
School board member Elizabeth Andersen said the issue of installing shields has been polarizing.
“I’ve never experienced so much division on any issue like I have in this particular with this situation,” she said. “I mean, I feel like it’s 50-50 for and against.”
The district also plans to send in an application for CARES Act funding to cover some or all of its COVID-19 related costs.
The school district expects to have the partitions installed between July and August.
The district is also working out the logistics for transporting and feeding students. Social distancing will be required for both.