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Duval school board approves plan to start phasing students back Aug. 20, keeps hybrid options

Plan creates district COVID-19 Rapid Response Team to perform contact tracing

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Duval County school board approved 5-2 a proposed school reopening plan that would push back the start date 10 days and keep a virtual hybrid learning model in place for some students.

The apparent final draft of Duval County Public Schools’ reopening plan that uses Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene’s “Bridge to Reopening” hybrid model was voted on Thursday during a lengthy board meeting.

The new plan would start the school year Aug. 20.

In the plan, only kindergarten and elementary students would attend in-person classes five days a week until three weeks after the Republican National Convention. Though, while the board was voting on the plan, President Donald Trump announced that the portion of the RNC that was to be held in Jacksonville has been canceled.

After Sept. 14, all middle school and high school students would then have the option to attend face-to-face classes five days a week, under the plan. That September date can be extended due to COVID-19 conditions at that time, Greene said Thursday.

The plan will still have to be approved by the Florida Department of Education which issued an emergency order asking all school districts to open schools five days a week.

Greene said that because it is impossible to predict the COVID-19 infection rate a month prior to reopening, coupled with the arrival of the RNC at the end of August, Duval County is asking for an exemption from the FDOE order and planning a phased reopening of schools.

Greene said the cancelation of the event has no bearing on the plan moving forward.

“It does not change anything,” Greene said following the board meeting. “We still have over 17,000 cases in Duval County, and we continue to have cases each day...Yes, the RNC was a part of, I guess, extenuating circumstances, but we still believe the number of cases that we have in Duval County merits this hybrid model.”

If the state decides not to recognize Duval’s hybrid plan, the district could lose out on up to $70 million in state funding, Greene said.

As Florida reported a single-day record of 173 additional coronavirus-related deaths, Jacksonville also saw a concerning trend continue with five more deaths reported for Duval County in data released Thursday by the Florida Department of Health.

That brings Jacksonville’s total to 113 COVID-19 related deaths -- and more than one-fifth of those (24) have been reported in the last seven days. (The 173 deaths statewide did not all occur in the last 24 hours. The state’s death data often have significant delays in reporting and some of the deaths may have occurred weeks ago.)

The report comes one day after a 9-year-old Putnam County girl reportedly died after contracting COVID-19, the youngest reported death in Florida.

“We are still very cognizant that we are still in the first wave of COVID-19 and have no idea what is before us beyond the first nine weeks of school,” Greene said.

The plan says that the district has the option to reevaluate after Labor Day and pivot to full-time distance learning if the outbreak gets worse, based on the advice of health officials.

Board member Ashley Smith Juarez expressed apprehension about the plan. Smith Juarez said she could not support a plan with the current spread of COVID-19 in the community.

“I don’t think we are ready as a community,” board member Darryl Willie agreed.

Both Willie and Smith Juarez voted against the plan.

Greene said the proposed Aug. 20 start date was chosen because it was the latest possible date schools could open that would not affect the paychecks of district employees.

Greene also said wants to extend enrollment for Duval Homeroom after technical issues News4Jax reported this week. The new deadline is July 31.

Forty people, many teachers and parents, stepped to the podium during the public comment section of the meeting. Some were brought to tears when they begged the school board to start the school year fully online.

“How am I supposed to tell my students I can keep them safe when I’m not sure I can?” said teacher Lauren Katz.

Others asked the school district to keep its Aug. 10 start date and allow students the option to return to school if they want to.

“I cannot wait to return to brick-and-mortar. I’ve been bullied by other teachers for having a differing opinion,” said teacher Jennifer Wiseman. “Technology is not an effective teaching method, too many technical problems. If a parent wants that, they should be able to make that choice.”

School board member Elizabeth Andersen said she was torn over how to vote, but in the end, said she trusts Greene’s judgment.

“If for some reason we get into a position where it is not safe, Dr. Greene, I promise you’ll hear from me,” Andersen said.

Greene acknowledged the months ahead will be difficult.

“There is no winning in this,” Greene said. “The teachers didn’t lose, we didn’t win. We are going to have to come together, do what we need to do for our students and our families. As an administration, we will work with (the teachers union) and all our other unions to do the very best job we can to protect our employees.”

The options, shared in a draft plan below, are broken down by grade/school level:

  • Elementary schools will open Aug. 20 for face-to-face learning five days per week for all students in grades Pre-K through five. Virtual learning options will still be available for families who decide against the face-to-face method.
  • Middle schools will start in-person learning Aug. 20 for all students in grades sixth through eighth. Those students will be on a staggered schedule three or four days a week, with distance learning through Duval HomeRoom. Then, on Sept. 14, students return to face-to-face format five days per week. Full-time virtual options will still be available.
  • High schools start face-to-face in-person learning Aug. 20 for all high school students on a staggered schedule two days per week. The other three days will be distance learning via Duval HomeRoom. Beginning Sept. 14, students return to face-to-face instruction five days per week. Remote learning options are available for families not ready to return to face-to-face instruction.

The drafted reopening plan also creates a COVID-19 Rapid Response Team to perform contact tracing and follow up with any students or staff who test positive for COVID-19.

The team of nurses will work with the Florida Department of Health-Duval and, “provide an expedited response to suspected and identified cases of COVID-19 in the school district,” the draft said.

Special education students

Many parents have been calling News4Jax asking how the new plan will accommodate students with special needs.

Under the Education Department’s order to reopen schools – school districts must provide all of the services required by law, including specialized instruction for students with an individual education plan, and services for students with special needs, those from low-income families and those who are homeless or in foster care.

According to the DCPS draft plan, the district will have a full array of services for students with disabilities.

There is also an option for meetings between parents and educators, along with psychological evaluations and some distance learning options.

Parents and guardians can meet with educators, in person or virtually, to go over a student’s education plan.

Related services such as therapy for speech, language, occupational, physical and mental health will be delivered virtually with appropriate certified personnel.

The district also has procedures in place to conduct screenings, evaluations, and interventions to address the social emotional needs of students with disabilities.

All students with disabilities will be given the Behavior Intervention Monitoring Assessment System screener, which can be given by a classroom teacher.

If the results of the exam indicate a need for further consideration of supports, the IEP team will meet to review and discuss.

Mental health

The district will also continue Wellness Wednesdays for all schools K-12. The program was launched last year.

Some topics will be specific to the pandemic, such as isolation, stress and anxiety.

These lessons will be available in person and online.


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