Alachua County School Board Discusses Reopening Plan

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The Alachua County School Board held a virtual meeting Wednesday to discuss the plan for reopening.

“COVID has impacted every family, but at varying levels and very differently depending on the scenario that your family is in right now,” Alachua County Superintendent Karen Clarke said. She added that the board recognizes the concern of parents and employees, and that they are concerned as well.

All public schools have been mandated by the education commissioner to reopen in August for at least five days a week, and to offer “the full panoply of services,” and must submit their plan to the state by July 31.

“That’s non-negotiable at this point,” Clarke said.

The school district is, however, extending options. They released a draft plan on June 30 and are currently working through the feedback they received from parents and students.

Families will be able to choose between traditional brick-and-mortar schooling, a hybrid learning option called Digital Academy, or completely online learning through Alachua eSchool.

Jennifer Wise, executive director of K-12 curriculum, explained these three options in further detail.

Students who choose to return to face-to-face instruction will have additional health and safety measures in place for them.

“We know schools are designed for social interaction, rather than social distancing,” Wise said.

For those students and employees, the board will be relying on guidance from the Department of Education, the Department of Health, and the CDC.

With the Digital Academy — which is still waiting to be state-approved — students would receive live lessons from home, also known as ‘face to screen.’ Their schedule would be synchronous with regular school hours. The students in the Digital Academy would be able to maintain their connection to their assigned school.

“They will be interacting in real-time with their teachers and their classmates,” Wise said.

The third option is Alachua eSchool. With this option, students cannot maintain their connection to their assigned school, but it allows for more flexibility with time and location.

Parents have been asked to complete a survey indicating their choice of schooling by July 19. Those results will be critical in anticipating course enrollment and preparing accordingly, Wise said. The survey states that families are asked “to commit to their choice for the first nine weeks/semester of school, although schools will work with families if they need to make a change.” If no reply is received by the deadline, that student will be automatically enrolled in the traditional brick-and-mortar option.

The school has purchased a good stock of three-ply disposable masks, KN95 masks for nurses, and hand sanitizer dispensers. They also bought a disinfectant backpack sprayer to clean the doorknobs, water fountains and other frequently touched surfaces.

Hand sanitizing stations will be installed in each classroom for students to sanitize upon entry and exit. Each classroom will be cleaned daily with a CDC-approved cleaning agent before and after school.

If there is a confirmed case at the school, the affected rooms would be evacuated and locked down for 24 hours for sanitization before reopening.

Reginald Thomas, director of transportation, said buses would not allow more than 50 students. Family units will sit with their siblings, but no more than two. Bus drivers are currently using and will continue to use Lavender 256 disinfectant to wipe down the bus after completing their route.

Maria Eunice, director of food and nutrition services, spoke about food service changes.

Social distancing will be directed by stickers they have placed six feet apart. They have put hand sanitizer in the cafeteria, and purchased Plexiglas barriers that will hang from the ceiling for the cashier station. Most of the food will be pre-packaged, and if not pre-packaged, will be boxed in the grab-and-go areas.

There are clinics set up for all employees. They have four sites set up for testing and a fifth, specifically for the transportation staff, which would conduct testing at least monthly.

The schools are currently scheduled to reopen Aug. 10.

About Baylin Kwan

Baylin is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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