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Alachua County School Board Votes 4-1 In Favor Of 'Optional Innovative Reopening' Plan

In reference to the transportation department, McNealy said it’s apparent that the school board has not done what they need to do in terms of contact tracing.
In reference to the transportation department, McNealy said it’s apparent that the school board has not done what they need to do in terms of contact tracing.

The Alachua County School Board on Tuesday approved its "optional innovative reopening plan" for the upcoming school year and will submit the plan to the Florida Department of Education.

The plan, which must be sent to the state by Friday, includes three choices for how students would like to continue their education in the fall, offering one in-person and two online options. It also provides six "assurances," such as monitoring the progress of students throughout the year and requiring brick-and-mortar schools to be open at least five days a week.

Dozens of concerned members of the community called in during the public comment portion of the meeting to voice their opinions about the plan, including an Alachua County teacher, Melissa Hawthorne. Some teachers will have to teach students in their classrooms and students who are taking classes online through the Digital Academy simultaneously.

“I feel like asking me to do both at the same time is asking me to sacrifice the quality of instruction that I’m able to give to all of the students,” Hawthorne said, “And I strongly believe that all teachers teaching through one mode of delivery online through Digital Academy - if I was focusing on just one thing, I could do a really great job.”

A transportation worker for Alachua County Public Schools, Patricia Palmer, also called into the school board's virtual meeting. She said she’s upset because she came in contact with a coworker who tested positive for COVID-19, but she has yet to be notified through her department that her coworker had the virus.

“I’m angry, and I’m almost in a rage because you can’t imagine how I feel Monday morning around 1 o’clock when my 13-year-old son came and told me he had been having headaches and chest pains all day,” she said. “And I had to rush both of my kids to the ER to get tested.”

She asked the school board members to get in contact with the district's transportation department to see how they will go about handling workers who are exposed to the virus.

Leanetta McNealy, vice chair of the school board, was the one school board member to vote against sending the reopening plans to the Florida Department of Education.

“We already know tonight, if you acknowledge it, that we are going to shut down this school system. It’s obvious with all of the employees and students that are already positive,” she said.

As teachers prepare to head back to the classroom, students are choosing how they would like to return. Of those who responded to a poll of families in Alachua County, 41% selected traditional classes, 41% chose the Digital Academy and 18% picked the eSchool.

According to Karen Clarke, superintendent of Alachua County public schools, the county is working on a comprehensive reopening plan that includes more details than the optional innovative reopening plan.

“This will give us the flexibility that we need to offer this plan whether we reopen with some brick-and-mortar, some in the Digital Academy, some in eSchool,” she said.

She said this plan is just one piece of the full reopening plan.

Correction appended: A previous version of this story stated that two in-person and one online option were part of the plan. The options are, in fact, two online and one in-person.

Hannah Bobek is a reporter for WUFT News and can be reached at hannah.bobek@ufl.edu.