Time to head back to school in St. Johns County: What you need to know

Lockers in a St. Johns County school (WJXT)

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Students across Northeast Florida will be heading back to school Wednesday, so it’s time to get back into the fall semester swing.

In St. Johns County, one school will be starting later than the rest. Students at the county’s new Beachside High School don’t head back to class until Monday.

RELATED: Take a look at St. Johns County’s new Beachside High School

For the other 50,000 students in the county though, summer break is over, and it’s time to hit the books again.

Wednesday is a regular early release day for St. Johns County.

RELATED: How many teacher vacancies are in your school district? The latest county-by-county breakdown

It's the first day of school in one of the fastest growing counties in America, St. Johns County. News4JAX's Aaron Farrar is at Fruit Cove Middle School, where he spoke with parents.

Parents and students, here’s what you need to know:

Bus reminders

Students MUST ride their assigned school bus to and from school. It’s part of state law.

In St. Johns County, bus drivers will not accept notes from parents, asking that their child rides another bus.

The district says your child must use their designated bus and bus stop.

It helps make sure they’re accounted for.

RELATED: Got a problem with your student’s bus? Here’s who to call. | ‘We just ask for patience’: The issues expected as St. Johns County students head back to school

And if you have a kindergartener who rides a bus in St. Johns County, a parent or listed guardian MUST be at the stop every time they are dropped off.

If no one is there, the bus driver will take the child back to school.

If you have a special circumstance, you can apply for a provisional transportation waiver on the transportation department’s website.

If you have issues with your child’s bus, you can report them at 904-547-7810.

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Superintendent Tim Forson said there could be transportation issues starting out, with over- and under-capacity buses.

“I think one of the things, you know who the number of eligible riders are, but you don’t know who’s going to ride. And so until you get through that first week, or maybe even two weeks, you don’t fully know who’s going to ride,” Forson said.

Forson added there are also concerns over having enough bus drivers, which is an issue across the area.

RELATED: Bus driver shortages loom as students head back to school

There are 237 bus routes to start the academic year, which is five fewer than last year. St. Johns County schools are also beginning this school year with 256 bus operators -- that’s 11 fewer than this time last year.

The first day of school has begun at Julington Creek Elementary School in St. Johns County. News4JAX's Aaron Farrar spoke with a parent of one of the students.

COVID protocols

The St. Johns County School district will not have many of the COVID-19 protocols that it had over the last two years.

It will not keep an updated COVID dashboard and will no longer tell parents about possible exposures.

It is also stopping its dedicated district COVID hotline.

It recommends that you talk to your child’s doctor about any COVID-related questions or concerns you have.

Any COVID-related absences will be treated like others.

That means a student must bring a note from a parent or guardian within 48 hours of returning to school, explaining why they missed class.

Alert system

St. Johns County is reminding parents to sign up for alerts from its alert system, so you’ll be in the loop if there is an emergency.

It’s called School Messenger Info Center.

It can send thousands of messages in minutes.

You can download the Info Center app from your app store or go to the website version at infocenter.schoolmessenger.com. You’ll want to click “Sign Up” or “New User” to register.

Make sure to use the same email that you gave your child’s school.

Once you’ve finished the registration process, you can choose how you’d like to be notified, through calls, texts or emails.

You can also sign up for text messages by texting “Yes” to 67587. Then, verify that your number is on file at your child’s school.

You can check it on Info Center or call your child’s school.

Safety & security

Superintendent Tim Forson said district officials understand security is a major concern for many parents, particularly in the wake of the deadly Uvalde elementary school shooting that ended the spring semester.

Forson said security precautions include a single point of entry for campus buildings and youth resources deputies assigned to each school.

RELATED: St. Johns County school security: Steps law enforcement is taking to secure schools

“Some (schools) may have more than one armed personnel because of the size of school and complexity of it, and this year, Alyssa’s Law goes into effect,” Forson said. “Every teacher will have a panic button so if they see something as a threat -- no matter where they are in the school -- they can press their alert and it will dispatch directly to the sheriff’s office and school leaders.”

St. Johns County Sheriff Rob Hardwick said the department spent the summer training the Youth Resource Division, which is the school resource officers.

Hardwick said it’s important not to be complacent and to report anything suspicious.

“It can happen anywhere. I don’t want students or staff or parents to think it cannot happen here,” Hardwick said. “We gotta put those thoughts behind our head, but the risk never goes away.”

Important links

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.