RECAP: Town hall with Clay County schools leaders

Replay the entire town hall using the video player below

In an effort to shed more light on reopening plans for Clay County schools, News4Jax held a virtual town hall Thursday morning dedicated to answering your questions.

RELATED: Watch the Duval County schools town hall | Replay the St. Johns County schools town hall

Hosted by News4JAX anchor Jennifer Waugh and education reporters Joe McLean and Travis Gibson, this town hall featured panelists including Superintendent David Broskie, Director of Transportation Derald Sweatt, Clay County Education Association President Victoria Kidwell, and Heather Huffman, director of the Florida Department of Health in Clay County.

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The panel fielded questions about the school district’s mask policy, how social distancing will be handled on buses, whether staff will be screened before returning to school and what kind of resources will be in place for Exceptional Student Education. The group also dispelled a rumor going around on social media.

If you couldn’t make it to the town hall, don’t sweat it. We’ve posted an on-demand version of the event directly above along with an abbreviated version of the Q&A below:

What’s the mask policy once a student steps on campus?

Broskie: “So the board policy is for grades three through 12 that they’ll wear a mask if social distancing is not achieved. So, if they’re within six feet of someone else. There’s also other exceptions to the rules that is listed in the policy. You know, there are some students that might have a medical issue or a reason why they can’t wear a mask. It’s strongly encouraged under the policy for grades K through two and it is mandatory on a school bus.”

What happens if a student forgets to bring their mask on a school bus?

Sweatt: “We are going to carry a certain amount of masks for that and when that happens. But we’re also going to make sure that we’re encouraging them not to forget it because it’s something we can’t do every day. But we are going to have extra masks on the bus for those students who forget it, so they can work better.”

What about a student who refuses to wear a mask?

Sweatt: “That’s a coaching opportunity at the school. So we’ll get to the school and talk to the administrator and the administrator will contact the family and work with the student individually to encourage them to the reasons why they want to wear a mask.”

What about enforcement of the mask policy in class?

Broskie: “Schools historically and teachers have dealt with issues all throughout time, whether it’s students that don’t follow the dress code, students that don’t wear their student ID. We’re accustomed to, unfortunately, some people not following the rules, and then providing coaching and guidance to get them to follow the rules. You know, teachers have had influence all throughout the history of education, they’ll continue to exert influence on students and get them to do the right thing and to wear the mask and follow the policy.”

Could there be punitive repercussions for students?

Broskie: “No, I’m not looking for it to be punitive. I think that there’s enough things to worry about other than just masks. I think if it becomes punitive, it’s because it escalated from simply not following directions to some form of insubordination or something along that line. So it’s not really a mask issue. At that point, it’s an entirely different issue. So I think coaching would be the first order of the day and getting people and explaining what the purpose is and why we’re doing this and what the school board policy is, is the first step.”

How do teachers feel about the School Board’s mask policy?

Kidwell: “I mean, teachers are a little nervous about it. But again, it’s something that teachers deal with all the time. You know, different children that have different personalities and some are more resistant to doing what they should do, and teachers have to deal with that. What we want to do is teach them that this is about community health, and you’re protecting your peers. We’re a community here and we do it for each other. And we want to come from that direction. And we don’t want to come from a punitive way…we want to educate them. I mean, we’re educators. We want them to know that this is about safety, the safety of your peers, the safety of your teachers. And it’s the right thing to do. And so we’re hoping that pressure applied to them is going to make that difference. And I think that if we’re consistent in our messaging and we’re consistent in our modeling by all administrators and by all teachers, that we’re not going to have as many issues as we might think we would.”

Are students required to wear a mask at all times? Is it just when students are on the bus or in general?

Sweatt: “In general. I mean, it’s the entire county, so all the employees are where they can. When we don’t have six-foot social distancing, they have to wear a mask.”

Is there any reason that teachers would be opposed to doing this?

Kidwell: “I think the mask debate, unfortunately, has become politicized all around our country. And instead of looking at it as a public health issues, a lot of people are looking at it as a personal freedom. And then we do have some teachers that feel that way as well. I’m very comfortable with and most of our teachers are very comfortable with the evolving science. Science takes time and we are learning. As you said, certain masks are better than other masks. At first, it was like, ‘You don’t need a mask.’ And now we’re like, ‘Hey, we’re learning, we’ve done some science and, guess what, these really do help.”

Are there going to be any changes with buses or routes that parents need to know?

Sweatt: “No, nothing changing with the routes. We do, however, are going to have not as many kids on the bus not as many students. So we’re trying to do the six-foot distancing as much as possible. And, through the survey we just did, there’s 6,000 students that are qualified for transportation that are no longer needing transportation. So that reduces our number. We’re getting more of an accurate number of students that will be on the bus, and it’s going to help us create better distance and more space between the students.”

What should students expect as they step onto their school bus?

Sweatt: “First, they’re going to have a clean bus. We’re cleaning after every route and spraying them after our a.m. routes and our p.m. routes every day. So that’s going to happen regardless every day. They’re going to have hand sanitizers as they got on the bus to use and as they exit. They’re going to have masks available if they don’t have theirs, but hopefully we’ve got them to come on with the mask. We plan on leaving the first seat of the bus vacant to create some distance between the students and the bus driver, protecting the employee some. So, we’re going to have seating charts that are going to be followed very well. Ans so we know where every student’s sitting at every day, and we’re going to load the bus as you get on from the back to the front to avoid creating a lot of pass-through among students.”

What sort of precautions are being taken for students with special needs in a brick-and-mortar learning environment? Will there be additional staff or resources?

Broskie: “The way I would answer that is we’ll have additional PPE (personal protective equipment) for all staff. Our staffing within our ESE (Exceptional Student Education) program is pretty good in Clay County. In fact, we have a very high ESE population – almost 22 percent. And one of the reasons why I believe we do is because we offer good services to families, and many families moved to Clay County for these services. So we have a rich and good tradition of taking care of our ESE students, and we’re going to continue to do that. And part of that is taking care of the staff because, as you pointed out, when we contact some of our more profound students, especially there is, you know, fluid involved in that.”

Would you explain the challenges for teachers of ESE students during this pandemic?

Kidwell: “I think those challenges would be for anybody who is dealing with one-on-one instruction or small group instruction. That happens a lot in our lower grades, right? … And so if you have young children not required to wear masks – which our mandate does not extend to Pre-K to two – but yet you’re encouraging them, you are going to have a lot less mask wearing. They’re going, it’s going to be harder for them and ESE kids maybe can’t wear masks. So you’ve got teachers that are doing the hand over hand where they’re teaching kids that way, very specific things, and they have to be right next to them. So I mean, we’ve got shields for the teachers, we’ve got masks for the teachers, we have teachers that are concerned about teaching phonics but the kids can’t see their mouths and they need to be able to see them. So there’s all of these real issues, not to mention the risk to the teacher because the child doesn’t have a mask on… And these are the realities of our kids with special needs. I mean, we have to take them where they are and we love them and we move them to where we need them to be. But it is a greater risk factor for teachers, so it’s a concern.”

Will the teachers and staff be tested before going back to the classroom?

Broskie: “There’s not going to be a requirement to test each student or each employee. I think Miss Huffman can probably speak more to that.”

Huffman: “There’s limits to the testing that we have available, regardless of if it’s an antigen test, which is a lot of the rapids that we have out there, or the regular PCR testing that we have. Unfortunately, this isn’t a virus that we can, you know, go in clean and star over on a fresh slate or a good foundation. It doesn’t work like that. We have widespread community transmission throughout our whole nation and the state of Florida. Testing everybody at one time doesn’t really always catch it – they’re not 100 percent. Some tests are a little bit better than that. I think if we went in and we tested everybody and we got negatives on the majority of people, we may get a false sense of security that everybody’s negative. And it’s just not simply the case with the tests that we have the capability of doing at this time.”

There’s a rumor going around on social media that if a child tests positive, that child will be removed from the classroom and taken to the hospital without the parents’ knowledge. Is that true?

Broskie: “Totally false. Not true. I don’t know how else to answer that.”

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