ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – St. Johns County School District Superintendent Tim Forson was ready Tuesday morning to present a detailed reopening plan to the School Board.
But with the mandate to reopen school campuses in August handed down Monday evening, the presentation, and any reopening plans, have been put on hold.
“I really believe it’d be wise for me today not to walk through a plan that we don’t know if it will align with the state executive order that we received yesterday,“ Forson said. “I don’t want to present something and then unwind it, and present it again.”
School board members Beverly Slough and Patrick Canan were critical of the decision by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to issue the order with just over a month to go until the 2020-2021 school year begins in St. Johns County.
“I am disappointed in the commissioner and the governor for waiting until July 6th to send this down after schools have been struggling all summer long to figure out what to do and which direction to go,” Slough said, adding the order came as a surprise. “So I think you are very wise...hitting pause at the moment until we can figure out exactly what this executive order means and react to it, but I truly wish that this executive order had come quite earlier than it has.”
Forson encouraged parents to complete the district’s questionnaire asking which of the four options currently available for students that they prefer. Forson said the district still needs to get that data but acknowledged that “in the end, we might not be able to fulfill that.”
“We may have to narrow our options and narrow our choices, which will add anxiety to parents, and it will cause them possibly to have to make decisions that they thought they were not going to have earlier,” Forson said.
Parents and teachers lined up during the public comment portion of the virtual meeting to ask a wide range of questions like how the district will determine the level of COVID-19 spread in the community, is the district still considering a mask mandate and how it plans to protect teachers.
Many of the questions didn’t have clear answers as of Tuesday.
School board members pushed the district to schedule another workshop so that parents can have another opportunity to understand what the district plans to do moving forward.
A regular board meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. on July 14.
As it stands, parents have until July 15 to make a decision for their students’ path when school begins Aug. 10.
“We need to define if that’s a hard date, and if so, is there any flexibility after decisions are made,” Slough said.
Canan said he thinks there is a chance the district could work around the mandate and get a plan approved by the Department of Education.
“Ultimately, the decision is up to families and the parents and the children,” Canan said. “Because there may be a brick-and-mortar five days a week, option, but that doesn’t mean the parents and the kids are going to take the option. So they may end up taking some other alternative or different option that I think we’re going to be able to offer.”