St. Johns County students could be sent to distance learning if they don’t wear a mask

St. Johns County superintendent answered back-to-school questions during virtual meeting

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – St. Johns County students who refuse to wear a mask at school could be reassigned to distance learning, Superintendent Tim Forson said Thursday.

Forson spoke about the penalty for not wearing a face-covering during a virtual meeting Thursday morning.

“We will try to work through that situation and help us get to a place where that child can stay in brick-and-mortar. Ultimately though, in the health and safety of everyone involved, it could be a reassignment of a student into distance learning for a period of time.”

A similar policy is already in place for Duval County schools. A district spokeswoman said the district is still working through the details of the policy.

Currently, masks will be required on school busses, during arrival until temperature checks are complete, during hallway transitions and during dismissal. Masks are also required when students are unable to social distance.

Forson also used the meeting Thursday to review some of the changes the district has made over the last month as it prepares to reopen schools on Aug. 31.

One of the biggest changes involves high school sports.

Forson said student-athletes can return to practice starting Monday, but there will be no competitions until Sept. 11.

St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson takes questions from parents during a virtual meeting on Thursday.
St. Johns County Superintendent Tim Forson takes questions from parents during a virtual meeting on Thursday. (Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

Games will look much different this season, Forson added.

“You won’t have stands full of people all over the sidelines and in packing in stadiums, can’t have that happen,” he said. “We can’t do things that are going to be putting our community at risk. That won’t be popular, but I think everyone understands and everyone realizes that we can’t just turn things loose.”

As 30,000 St. Johns County students return to school campuses, Forson acknowledged there is no way to ensure COVID-19 won’t make its way into schools.

“I have no misconceptions,” Forson said. “I’m not naive to think, well, we won’t have any positive cases in our schools, we’re going to be perfect...It’s foolish. And so, I know that just because there are cases in our community now they will come into the door.”

He said the district has protocols in place for when that happens and said every school in the district has a nurse and is prepared for positive cases.

Forson also addressed the teachers who have made the choice to either retire or resign due to concerns because of the coronavirus.

In order to address that issue, Forson said the district has hired 250 teachers since the spring.

“That doesn’t mean we’ve grown by that huge amount of teachers. But some of that is backfilling where folks have decided either to take...pandemic leave, that they can step away for a period of time or retire or resign,” he said.

The district also plans to assign two or three substitute teachers to every school to make sure there are enough instructors in case a teacher becomes sick or arrives to school with a high temperature and needs to be isolated.

Forson said he plans to send out more information about the upcoming school year to parents at some point this weekend.

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