JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Diana Greene said Monday the school system will likely request a waiver to an emergency order requiring that schools reopen five days a week for in-person learning.
If that happens, DCPS would become the latest of a handful of Florida school districts to say the emergency order will not work for its area.
Greene said the district would be requesting the waiver based on a recent surge in COVID-19 cases and the expected arrival of the Republican National Convention which is scheduled to come to Jacksonville in August.
“Duval will be submitting a plan and I believe we will be requesting a waiver from a portion of that based on the number of cases we are dealing with in Duval as well as a major event happening in the month of August and Duval that will bring thousands, 10s of thousands, of people to our city, and we have no idea what impact it will have on our schools,” she said.
Greene presented what appeared to be a preview of the district’s school reopening plan during a virtual presentation to the Meninak Club of Jacksonville. Greene said the district will present what she thinks will be the final reopening plan at a workshop on Tuesday, but added the plan is still fluid.
In the presentation, Greene said students and staff will be required to keep masks on in the common areas, teachers will wear reusable face shields or cloth masks and the district will do its own contact tracing when people get sick.
“So if a student or employee tests positive for COVID-19, we work with the Department of Health and with their partnership, they perform a contact investigation. And based on that investigation, people will either have to self-isolate determined on the location and proximity,” Greene said.
Based on the outcome of the investigation, Greene said, DOH will then tell the district whether it has to close a classroom or close a school.
“It is not the district that makes that determination, it is the Department of Health,” Greene added.
Greene said if that happens, the district has a matrix that tells the next step.
“The timeframe is approximately 14 days, it can be less or it could be more,” Greene said.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry tweeted Monday evening that “we must get our kids and teens back to normal life.” He later tweeted: “Youth sports should happen this year. Schools should open this year.”
We must get our kids and teens back to normal life. A year is an eternity in their lives and development. They must have access to math, science, writing, arts, sports and friends. This is on us. Follow the data.— Lenny Curry (@lennycurry) July 14, 2020
For some Duval County school parents, their students won’t be heading back to school next month.
“As far as them going back to school I’m okay with them doing it virtually. I’m not okay with them doing it inside the building there’s been a rise in cases, I’d rather them be in the house,” Stefani Lewis said.
“Mine are not going back to school, period. Because I don’t believe that they can protect my children, my grandkids,” Georgetta Owens said.
Jeff Hewett said he’s not against sending his kids back to the classroom, but he’s looking to hear more about the district’s back to school plan.
“In a public school, you have around 30 kids in a classroom for how many hours per day? It just sounds like a germ factory. I just want to know more,” Hewett said.
Under the plan outlined by Greene on Monday, school visitors would be limited at schools for the first nine weeks.
The superintendent said temperature checks may not be a requirement but will still be available to teachers and students who want them. Elementary school students will also be asked to wash their hands every hour.
Teachers, like middle school English teacher Mark Thompson, are among the people worried about how the next school year will look under the emergency order.
He wrote a letter explaining his worry that he could spread the novel coronavirus to his wife who is chronically ill and immunocompromised.
“That’s why I really wanted to write this letter, to make it explicitly obvious people are not ok with this. They are worried and they have good reason to be,” Thompson said.
Greene hinted that the plan she presented Monday was a condensed version of what she will bring to school board members on Tuesday.
Greene said schools will need to develop cafeteria plans to make sure students can remain socially distant during lunch.
School transportation continues to be a challenging topic, one that Greene addressed during her presentation Monday. She said students will be expected to wear masks on busses and will be asked to use hand sanitizer before boarding and when getting off the bus. Buses will also be sanitized and wiped down between every route.
Hewitt said he’s not opposed to sending his kids back to school, but he felt the virtual option also worked well for his family.
“They miss their friends, they miss the social interactions and I understand that’s important also but as long as their safe. That’s what’s important,” he said.
Greene was asked: What will happen for teachers who might be exposed in the classroom — are they getting paid time off for the 14 days if they’re exposed or is that going to eat into their current vacation or sick leave?
Greene said the district has a number of options it plans to present to the school board on Tuesday.
“If, unfortunately, they are positive for COVID-19, it really depends on what is the situation, which I believe would be most appropriate for any employee,” she added.