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Duval County School Board considers delaying start of school

Right now, school is scheduled to begin on Aug. 10

VIDEO: In a special school board meeting, Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Diana Greene asked the board to hold a discussion about the possibility of delaying the start of school.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In a special school board meeting held Thursday afternoon, Duval County Public Schools leaders agreed to explore delaying the start of school.

It’s the first time the district has publicly discussed pushing back the start date for students as it tries to figure out the best way to reopen schools this fall.

Greene said delaying the start of school would require her to withdraw the current reopening plan which was released this week.

Right now school is scheduled to begin on Aug. 10.

“This will require us to be out-of-the-box thinkers to ensure that we can maintain our payroll,” said Greene, referring to how a delay could impact pay for teachers, bus drivers and support staff.

One school board member said they would support the idea of pushing back the start date, an idea being explored in other Northeast Florida school districts like St. Johns County and Clay County. The school district in Alachua County voted Wednesday to push back its start date.

Greene said that based on the information from this week’s superintendent’s conference call, about one-third of the school districts in Florida are moving their start date back.

Board member Ashley Smith-Juarez suggested going back to full-time virtual learning on Aug. 10, an idea championed by teachers who spoke during public comment. If the board goes with her suggestion, that would mean no delay in school, but no face-to-face instruction.

Ultimately, the school board voted unanimously to delay the discussion about pushing back the start date and wait to decide which reopening plan to send to the Florida Department of Education until July 23.

The special meeting, held in the Cline Auditorium at the DCPS Administration Building, started Thursday with a wave of teachers asked for the district to consider their health while weighing reopening options.

Also in the meeting, the school board unanimously passed a resolution asking the Florida Department of Education to waive the requirement that schools hold emergency drills.

Visual and verbal instruction on what to do in an emergency would be offered to students and staff.

Supporters said that drills aren’t conducive to social distancing requirements.

The meeting has two main agenda items: voting on the superintendent's updated learning models and a new resolution to waive emergency drills during the pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a monumental and unprecedented challenge, emerging quickly and demanding an immediate overhaul of instructional plans and school operations across the country,” the resolution said.

The stated purpose of the resolution is to prioritize the practice of social distancing.

“Florida Statutes require the district conduct emergency drills for fires, natural disasters, active shooter and hostage situations, and bomb threats, for all K-12 students and faculty at all public schools at least as often and other emergency drills,” the resolution said. “However, such emergency drills result in close contact of students and district staff that is contrary to the social distancing and other protective measures implemented by the district in response to COVID-19.”

The resolution said the superintendent would distribute both verbal and visual instructions for emergency procedures to students and staff instead of the traditional active drills.

“If we’re immediately worried about socially distancing for drills, then maybe we should be considering whether we should be going back to school and campus in the first place,” said Rebeccah Beller, parent of a Duval County student.

About the Authors:

McLean is a reporter with WJXT, covering education and breaking news. He is a frequent contributor to the News4Jax I-team and Trust Index coverage.

Kelly Wiley, an award-winning investigative reporter, joined the News4Jax I-Team in June 2019.