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Duval County schools back-to-school plan a ‘fluid’ situation

Masks? Distance learning? Options?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene told the Duval County School Board on Tuesday morning that her administration’s new plan to reopen schools does not necessarily meet the state’s emergency order to open school buildings for face-to-face instruction all week.

Greene credits the Republican National Convention and rising cases of the novel coronavirus in Jacksonville for the deviation in the reopening of middle and high school grade levels. Both will begin school on a hybrid schedule.

“We are bridging from the way we ended last year, with all students at-home, to options and precautions for the 2020-21 school year to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread among students, staff, and our loved ones. As we begin crossing this bridge, the most important announcements are these,” Greene wrote in a note to parents. “These choices include in-school options, distance learning through Duval HomeRoom and fully virtual learning through the Duval Virtual Instruction Academy.”

Greene called the COVID-19 era a “fluid” because conditions change rapidly. “A fluid body of water, like over the St. Johns River, requires a bridge to cross and so does this fluid pandemic situation.”

Already in the month of July, 22 teachers and five students have self-reported being positive for COVID-19.

What’s changed?

Starting Aug. 10, middle and high school students will be in-school some days and at-home learning online the other days. Middle and high school students are set to return to a five day a week in-school schedule the first full week after Labor Day, Sept. 7.

“Our plan as I stated is built on the data from Duval with the added caveat that we have a convention in August that will bring tens of thousands of people to our city,” Greene said. “We hope to continue to work with the Department of Education to get our plan approved.”

On the middle school level, 6th graders will attend in-person four days a week, with distance learning one day a week.

Grade 7 and 8 will attend in-person three days a week, with distance learning two days a week.

On the high school level, students will attend face-to-face instruction two days per week, and us Duval HomeRoom distance leaning three days a week.

Students who choose the hybrid option will eventually transition to a five-day a week face-to-face instruction.

Middle and high school students also have the option for full-time distance learning through Duval HomeRoom and the Duval Virtual Instruction Academy.

Duval HomeRoom will allow students an opportunity to exit and return to face-to-face learning each grading period. Duval HomeRoom will also allow students to maintain a spot at a specific campus or school.

“This opportunity is designed for families who want a distance learning opportunity to start the school year, but intend to return to full-time face to face instruction at some point during the school year,” Duval Schools said in a statement.

‘I’m not going to say, ‘yes, they will be taught by their teacher,' because they might not be,” said Greene.

Duval Virtual Instruction Academy is for students who will remain on a virtual platform for the entire school year.

Parents who already enrolled their students in Duval Virtual Instruction Academy do have the opportunity to move their child into a different option due to the recent changes.

DCPS back-to-school options chart
DCPS back-to-school options chart (Duval County Public Schools)

Elementary students

Elementary students have a full week in-school option beginning Aug. 10.

“We have better capabilities to maintain social distance and isolate classrooms of students in elementary schools, and elementary school students cannot stay home alone if parents need to go to work,” said DCPS in a statement.

Elementary students also have the options for Duval HomeRoom and Duval Virtual Instruction Academy.

School buses

This year, Duval County will assign students to a specific bus, bus stop and stop time to control the number of students on each bus.

This is different than in past years, according to DCPS.

Parents, not students, will have to sign in to FOCUS and register their children to ride the bus starting July 20.

Students served by ESE buses do not need to register for a bus stop.

Students will be required to wear a face-covering while riding a school bus.

Students with a medical condition or who are not able to wear a face-covering could be exempt from this requirement and may wear a plastic face shield, according to Duval Schools.

Each school bus will be disinfected between each bus trip. At the end of each day, every bus will be sanitized.

Face coverings required on bus and in school

Kindergarten through second-grade students will be issued a clear plastic face shield, which may be used in addition to or instead of a cloth face covering, DCPS said.

Students with disabilities or medical conditions that prevent a face covering may also use a clear plastic shield or other reasonable accommodation.

The Code of Conduct does not lay out consequences for not wearing a mask, according to the superintendent.

Tracking COVID-19 positive cases in schools

The school district will maintain a tracking log of students and staff who present to the school clinic with COVID-19-like symptoms per guidance from the Florida Department of Health.

Positive cases reported will be relayed to the Department of Health and contact tracing will be conducted by the agency.

Dr. Pauline Rolle with the Florida Department of Health in Duval County said the decision to quarantine an entire classroom will be made by the local department of health, but any decision to close down an entire school due to an outbreak will require state input.

“There will be cases. It’s just a matter of how we can mitigate the spread,” she said, adding that closing schools will be a joint decision between the superintendent and surgeon general.

Requirements

Face coverings will be required on bus and in school.

Kindergarten through second-grade students will be issued a clear plastic face shield, which may be used in addition to or instead of a cloth face covering, according to Duval Schools.

Students with disabilities or medical conditions that prevent a face covering may also use a clear plastic shield or other reasonable accommodation.

Face coverings will not be required in P.E., recess, band, music and other classes in which the facial covering is an obvious impediment to learning activities.

Teachers

Greene says she is still working with the Duval Teachers Union to address all the concerns of teachers and staff. The section to answer questions for teachers on the school’s website remains unfinished.

According to the plan, teachers can apply for Duval Virtual Instruction Academy and Duval HomeRoom and will find out their placements starting July 27.

The number of positions will be determined based on the number of students, according to Greene.

“The goal is that teachers will remain at their school of employment,” said Greene.

Many teachers have asked what will happen if they will have to quarantine or have to be hospitalized with COVID-19 during the school year.

Greene presented options indicating emergency sick leave, personal leave, authorized leave without pay, annual leave, FMLA and personal health leave will be available for teachers who become infected.

Greene also added teachers could apply for reasonable and appropriate accommodations.

Sanitization protocols

When it comes to sanitization protocols, the district said it plans to clean and sanitize high tough spaces throughout the school day.

Nightly cleaning and sanitizations will be done on all school spaces used during the day.

There will be deep cleanings and sanitizations on a weekly basis.

But Patty Dillion told News4Jax she doesn’t feel that it’s safe enough for her daughter to go back to the classroom, especially since her father recovered from COVID-19.

“He had it for three weeks and suffered greatly from it, and so with having my daughter at the school and potentially bringing this home,” Dillion said. “I refuse to send her back to the brick-and-mortar school. I want her online.”

DOWNLOAD: Duval County Public Schools’ Back-to-School Update

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