If you’ve wondered how St. Johns County schools will handle students returning to school, or what a daily bus ride could look like, we’ve got you covered. On Tuesday, News4JAX held the second in a series of education-focused town halls to get answers to those questions and more.
Hosts Melanie Lawson and Joe McLean posed your questions to a panel of key decision makers for St. Johns County schools, including Superintendent Tim Forson, St. Johns Education Association President Michelle Dillon and Melissa Kledzik, director of school health services.
Watch the replay using the video player directly above or read through our Q&A excerpt below (please note that some responses have been edited for clarity):
Q: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends parents take their students’ temperatures at home. It sounds like teachers will be doing that in St. Johns County?
A: “Yes, they actually will,” Kledzik said. “And that is a recommendation from the CDC. Just knowing the volume of what it would take to check every student, every staff member coming into the buildings is a really daunting task for sure. But knowing that there may be parents that don’t have the ability to do that at home, there may be students that get themselves up in the morning and get themselves to school and might not be doing that on their own, so our board members really felt that it was important that we took that task on and made sure that happened. So, the best way to do that is kind of an all-hands-on-deck approach to get everybody done and into school in a timely manner.”
Q: What measures are in place to ensure bus riders are going to be protected from exposure to the virus?
A: “To be completely transparent, you know, there are some CDC guidance or recommendations that we couldn’t meet, because we don’t have the capacity to meet,” Forson said. “You know, we can’t take an 80- capacity bus and run it with 12 kids. We don’t have the people we don’t have the buses. And so we will, that that’s why the masks are so important…We have to have this mask on when they come on, we have to have them throughout that ride, getting off and getting into that classroom. So we’re going to be very transparent up front: we can’t social distance six feet on a bus, and we won’t be able to, so parents will have to make some parents will make a decision probably not to utilize that resource. But I think others are in a situation where we need to do the best we can and that’s probably the best level of support we can provide at this point.”
Q: Do we have enough substitute teachers willing and ready to cover teachers who may have to be out of school for several days at a time?
A: “We are reviewing our pool of substitute teachers and one of the things we’re trying to do is we’re going to, we’re going to pre-assign some substitutes very early, the very beginning of the year to each school,” Forson said. “Because I think both, as Michelle and Melissa both would make reference to, if someone becomes symptomatic, or someone has to leave in the day, we have to have that ability to have continuity. So we’re going to have to get commitment to have our substitutes. We’re actually doing a substitute training this morning I saw when I came in our building this morning, so we’re continually trying to recruit and add to that pool because we know it’ll it will be taxed this year without question.”
Q: Is there a way for parents to change their student’s enrollment options now that the school start date has been delayed? What are their options over the next several weeks?
A: “I think that’s going to happen,” Forson said. “I think the the fact is that the the data that comes in will cause folks or as they get closer to the start of school conditions may change and they may do that. I think that the procedure for that now, we’ve kind of moved away from a district level procedure for it and one that is really school by school. And because we know what’s also going to happen is once even after the year begins, we’re going to get students moving from one platform to the other for some of the reasons both Michelle and Melissa talked about. So I think the process now becomes kind of a school-based process. The importance of the deadline, and you saw this from every school district, is we have minimal instructional resources, and we need to know where they need to be. And so changes to that now is probably the same reason why a high school when you get this far down the road, they don’t let students make schedule changes, because you’ve assigned teachers to positions and you want to make sure we can provide that resource when day one comes. And so we’re not encouraging it, but we’re certainly going to respond to it.”
Q: What will the anticipated class size be like for second-grade students? What about students who switch classes? How are you handling social distancing and class size and capacity?
A: “I think that the class size, one of the things about the emergency order is that it did not waive class size requirements. And so in classes, in core academic classes where a class size amendment applies, it still applies. So whether I’m at a school-based distance learning, or brick-and-mortar at the school, the numbers still apply the same way. Now it may get to a point that it is so unmanageable that we might find ourselves in violation in a couple places,” Forson said. “ ... What we’re going to do is what’s right for kids and teachers first. And unfortunately in that process, they may not all come to a common place when it gets to October when you’re having to reach that compliance. So, class size still applies. You know, in St. Johns County, we use an associate teacher or kind of a co-teach model. So very honestly and very transparent again, in some of our classrooms, you might have in an elementary classroom, 28-29 students that are on a roll, I think the expectation is some portion of those students will be in distance learning as we start, and then they will come back as time allows.”
Q: If Duval County went back to the hybrid model, why not do the same thing in St. Johns County?
A: “One of the things we said from the very beginning: it’s fluid,” Forson said. “And there may be things that we look at during the course of the year or later than that. It’s not an easy shift, though, from a hybrid model, that’s an A-B model, to an all-day model, when you’re when you’re talking about how you’re doing business and how you’re going to operate as a school system. I think initially, there’s very valid concern about from the emergency order that it could cost you funding wise in a hybrid kind of model. I understand Duval got that approved and I’m happy for them and that happening. ... You have to kind of measure in your own community, what’s the risk factors? What is the spread in that community? Is that a reasonable request to move forward? So you know, right now, that’s not the path we’re taking. But it doesn’t mean at some point, you know, through this that we don’t know how long this will continue.”
Just a quick reminder: we have our third virtual town hall planned next week with Clay County schools. News4JAX anchor Jennifer Waugh and education reporters Joe McLean and Travis Gibson will be joined by Superintendent David Broskie, Director of Transportation Derald Sweatt, Clay County Education Association President Victoria Kidwell and Heather Huffman, director for the Florida Department of Health in Clay County. That town hall is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 13.
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