JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County Public Schools is working with the county’s health department to set up a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in each of its secondary schools, beginning Aug. 18, Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene announced during a news conference Tuesday.
The clinics will offer the Pfizer vaccine to eligible high school and middle school students and staff who want a shot. The goal, she said, is to get every eligible person vaccinated in the first quarter.
“We want to spread the vaccination, not the virus,” Greene said.
She called the vaccine the gold medal strategy for preventing coronavirus outbreaks in schools, but said wearing face coverings would “get the silver.” A panel of medical experts that included well-known pediatricians from the Northeast Florida Pediatric Society agreed with Greene, saying students should begin the school year with masks on.
All DCPS employees, district vendors and visitors are required to wear masks or face coverings in the district’s schools and facilities for a period of 30 days -- which began Monday. Because of an executive order from Gov. Ron DeSantis, students can’t be included in that mandate.
“My concern and my battle is with this virus, and I need every resource to help mitigate that virus (from) spreading in our schools,” Greene said. “My issue is not with the governor it’s with how can we keep our students safe.”
But Greene said she is challenging the district’s families to mask up when school starts next Tuesday.
“I believe in our community. I believe in our educators and our families, and I strongly encourage them to coalesce around this,” she said. “We have a mask mandate for our employees through Sept. 3, and I’m challenging our families to do the same thing.”
Greene said the focus for this school year will be similar to last year -- keeping students safe and healthy and keeping classrooms open, although she acknowledged the delta variant has upped the ante on how difficult that might be to accomplish.
“To succeed academically, we must have our students in school,” Greene said. “Within the latitude we have, we will work to make our school environments as safe as possible to keep our students in school as much as possible.”
In addition to encouraging vaccinations and wearing masks indoors and on buses, Greene said the district will be using these strategies to help prevent outbreaks:
- Daily disinfecting of high-touch points and use of anti-microbial spray
- Staffed, isolated rooms for students exhibiting COVID-related symptoms
- Temperature checks for elementary students only
- Emphasizing handwashing/using hand sanitizer
- Hiring additional nursing staff and school health aides to support every school
- Implementing free telehealth services for all students (with parental consent) to give students access to health care
- Continuing the use of classroom and school bus seating charts to help the Department of Health with contact tracing and to minimize quarantines
- Updating the COVID-19 Dashboard daily
Greene said there is a threshold at which individual classrooms might have to be closed because of quarantines, and the district will work directly with the DOH to make those decisions. She said teachers will be prepared for temporary online learning if that becomes necessary because of a quarantine.
Greene said the district has not reconsidered offering Duval HomeRoom, the district’s virtual option from last year. She said the focus is on students learning in person, which is a big part of the district’s strategy to make up some of the learning loss from last school year.
She also re-emphasized a message repeated a lot last year: students and their families should watch what they do and where they go off-campus during the surging pandemic.
“It really is about everyone taking responsibility to not only keep themselves safe and healthy but to be cognizant of the people you’re surrounded by,” Greene said.
The Duval County School Board is set to meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday -- its final meeting before students return to classrooms in one week.