ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – St. Johns County School Board members on Tuesday asked the school district to explore pushing back the school start date to give the district more time to implement COVID-19 safety plans and allow parents to make decisions.
The majority of board members asked the district to push back the start date at least two weeks during a regular school board meeting. Right now, students are scheduled to return to schools on Aug. 10.
School board member Patrick Canan opened the meeting by asking the district to push back the start date and he was backed up by nearly every other board member.
“In March, there were hundreds of cases in the state of Florida and we closed the schools. Now there are thousands a day, I think the other day that was over 15,000 in one day,” Canan said. “I am requesting that we delay the start of school for at least two weeks, I would like to see it go to the day after Labor Day, but I know the recent mandates insisted that we open in August.”
A recent emergency order handed down by the Florida Department of Education said school campuses must reopen in August at least five days a week.
[WATCH: View the entire meeting below]
Board member Bill Mignon agreed and said the extra time could be used to plan and to train teachers, and to let parents know what the expectations are.
Board members Tommy Allen and Bev Slough also said they want to push back the start of school. Allen targeted Aug. 31 and Slough said Aug. 24 would be a good date to reopen schools.
Board member Kelly Barrera said she wasn’t prepared to look at delaying reopening school for two weeks because “we haven’t had a chance to really weigh all the pros and cons with that.”
“I’m not opposed to it but I don’t think I’m at the point that I’m ready to make any decisions,” she said.
The School Board will vote not on delaying school opening Tuesday because it is not on the agenda.
Slough asked Superintendent Tim Forson to explore the possibility of pushing back the start date. Forson said the days would likely be tacked onto the end of the year.
“I applaud the decision to look into delaying the start of the school year,” said Michelle Dillon, president of the St. Johns County teachers union. “This is the smart decision. This is the right decision.”
The majority of parents who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting supported the idea of delaying the start of school but others urged the district to let students return to campus.
Forson said as of Tuesday morning, there have been 4,800 requests for school-based virtual learning so far.
“So that’s almost 12% of our student population, and a lot haven’t responded yet and won’t respond until Friday, so we know 4,800 is probably three schools or if you wanted to pull him out independently. That’s a lot,” Forson said.
St. Johns County parents have until Friday to decide on school options including school-based brick and mortar learning, school-based distance learning, St. Johns Virtual School or home education.
Forson added that because of the increased number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, the district considers there to be “substantial” spread in the community. With the substantial spread of the virus, the district was planning to shut down schools and move to full-time distance learning, but that plan had to be scrapped after the emergency order from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
There will be a formal school board meeting on July 28 and there is the possibility of a special meeting if the board needs to move the first day of school back.
Also Tuesday, the district revealed plans for how personal protective equipment (PPE) will be utilized during the upcoming school year to help keep students and faculty safe.
- In all St. Johns County schools, masks will be required on buses prior to instruction, hallways and classrooms where students can’t social distance
- All students and staff will get temperature checks prior to the start of the school day
- Students and staff will be provided PPE including masks for students, hand sanitizer, desk shields for elementary and ESE students. Face shields and neck gaiters will also be available for pre-K students.
- Classrooms/buses will be sanitized
- Signage will be posted, teachers will discuss hygiene and PPE use
During its meeting, the school board approved $1.7 million to purchase the items needed.
The school district on Tuesday evening also released a list of dozens of frequently asked questions, many of which were asked during the school board meeting.
Here are the responses to some of the questions:
Q: Is a student who tests positive in School-Based Brick & Mortar moved to the SchoolBased Distance Learning model?
A: The student will remain with their original class and receive teacher support while at home.
Q: Do all students in a classroom with a positive case need to get tested?
A: Per CDC guidelines, testing is not required.