NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – The Nassau County School Board released its plan for reopening during its meeting Thursday night.
The plan details three options for elementary (Pre-K-5) and secondary (6-12) students: brick-and-mortar school, school-based distancing learning and Nassau Virtual School.
Under option one, traditional brick-and-mortar school, K-12 students will go to school as normal, five days a week. Prekindergarten students will go to school as normal, four days a week. Early release days will continue to occur every Wednesday.
As part of option two, school-based distancing learning, students will remain attached to their current school while receiving instruction online. Teaching will mirror the pace and rigor of the traditional brick-and-mortar school. The school district said students choosing this option should make a semester commitment. For secondary students, according to the school district, all courses will not be available through school‐based distance learning. For courses not available through school‐based distance learning, students may take the course through Nassau Virtual or Florida Virtual School.
Option three is Nassau Virtual. Students who chose Nassau Virtual will withdraw from their traditional school and switch their enrollment to Nassau Virtual. Students choosing this option should also make a semester commitment.
Some parents and teachers voiced their concerns about in-person learning during Thursday’s school board meeting.
“Can schools separately mandate masks even if the county doesn’t? We’re asking these students to attend in-person instruction when most of us won’t step into a workplace or a Walmart without a mask,” one parent said.
“I teach up to 132 middle school students every day. I know that we will not be able to soically distance. They’re middle schoolers. I know we will not be able to wear masks correctly. They’re middle schoolers,” one teacher said. “I know there’s not enough hand sanitizer and Lysol to last as long as we need it. They don’t make it. It’s not available.”
More than 800 Nassau County parents said they are not comfortable sending their kids back to campus. The Nassau County School District last month sent out a survey to get a feel for how many parents were considering in-person versus online learning. Superintendent Dr. Kathy Burns said Thursday she had 5,821 responses to the survey. Of that number, 831 said they would not return to school in August.
“We will have to adjust our units and our teaching units for our schools based on that information,” Burns said.
When asked about the workload for teachers, she said she is meeting with other neighboring counties’ superintendents to discuss how to balance the workload of on-campus and online learning.
“We certainly don’t want to overwhelm anybody or any of our employees,” Burns said. “We want to work together for a safe and healthy return to teaching and learning.”
More than 3/4 of respondents said they would consider sending children back to campus, so the school district is preparing for that influx.
A couple of weeks ago, the district published a condensed version of its reopening plan. That memo said that in most classrooms, it is not possible to keep 6 feet of distance between desks, but that all efforts will be made to keep small groups consistent and to minimize the number of students each child interacts with. The plan released Thursday also states desks and other furniture will be arranged to allow for as much distance as possible between students. Classrooms will be sanitized, and surfaces will be disinfected with disinfectants on a daily basis. In addition, students will not be sharing classroom materials.
In its plan, the school district acknowledged social distancing will be difficult during lunch in the cafeteria but said it’s looking into purchasing plexiglass shields that would run down the center of the tables to provide protection for students sitting across from one another. Outdoor areas and other spaces will also be used to increase social distancing.
When asked about the protocol for positive COVID-19 cases on campus, Burns said they’re developing a process that will be different for students and employees.
“We have steps that are outlined, steps that we take if someone is identified,” Burns said. “We have an isolation area that we will have on our campus if it’s a student and the steps that will be taken for them, and then we have steps for our employees, as well. And then we work with the health department to do contact tracing.”
According to the plan, if a student or employee tests positive for COVID‐19, they will not return to school or work until cleared by a physician with a doctor’s note reflecting the day of return. Once an individual is confirmed positive for COVID‐19, the health department will be notified and contact tracing will be conducted. A health department letter will be sent home with all students having close contact with a confirmed case. In consultation with the Health Department, a decision will be made regarding which individuals should quarantine and for how many days. Students who test positive or who are sent home to quarantine due to exposure will be provided a device and a plan for distance learning.
As for face masks, initially, the School Board said masks would only be required on buses, but masks would not be required for pre-K-5 students and masks would be required for 6-12 students during class changes. However, after county commissioners mandated those older than 6 wear masks inside public buildings, the school district will follow that mandate if it is still in place when school begins. All district employees will wear masks, and in some cases, face shields. According to the plan, students will also be required to wear masks on buses. Masks should be provided by parents, but a disposable mask will be provided if a student forgets one.
“Our very first task force was a medical task force made up of doctors in our community and emergency operations,” Burns said. “We learned last Monday when we met with them again the importance of masks that they play in protecting everyone.”
The initial memo asked, before even sending their kids to school, that Nassau County parents check their child’s temperature and symptoms.
Right now, each school is working on developing new procedures for pick up and drop off that limits the number of students in one spot. According to the plan, arrival for K-5 students will not be much different than normal. Upon arrival, students will go straight to class or to the cafeteria for breakfast. Arrival times for secondary schools may need to be adjusted. Principals will determine the appropriate arrival times for their campuses based on their ability to get students in class on time and their ability to provide adequate supervision for students before the start of classes. At dismissal, there will be increased supervision to maintain directional flow and reduce mass gatherings. Dismissal will be staggered when possible.
According to the school district, the plan is still just a draft at this point. The school district said this is a fluid process and there will likely be things changed as it works to find the best options to keep schools safe.