The School Board of Alachua County has approved the reopening of public schools on August 31st and will move forward with the current plan that gives families the choice of attending brick and mortar, e-school and Florida e-school classes.
The meeting, which aired on Channel 12 on Aug. 12th, covered health metrics, bus capacity and training of faculty and staff.
One citizen delivered a letter on behalf of more than 900 citizens asking for an “all digital” opening until CDC metrics are met and rapid testing is available with supply chain shortages.
He offered the idea of “small learning pods” and the need for the digital divide to be eliminated.
“We are in a global pandemic hot spot,” he said, and urged the board to reconsider the brick and mortar opening.
One parent said she needed her kids to be in front of their teacher learning topics she cannot teach.
Alachua County Health Department Administrator Paul Myers and doctors from UF Health division of infectious diseases and global medicine spoke to the low rates of transmission of COVID-19 in the county and the ability for the FDOH and UF to test students and faculty in case of an outbreak.
They agreed there is no “magic number” metric to determine when to close a school or district but pledged to work closely with Alachua Public School sharing testing equipment and contact tracing resources.
UF Health Director of Emerging Pathogens Institute Dr. Glenn Morris said that with moderate transmission in Alachua County, “It is almost certain we will be getting students coming to school infected.”
He said they would work with the FDOH and school district to “mitigate the risk” and implement ways to mitigate the spread in school through following CDC standards and establishing testing protocols.
The threat of losing $30 million in funding by not opening brick and mortar schools five days a week as mandated by the Florida Department of Education, was also weighed.
The Alachua Board of County Commission offered the SBAC the funds to cover that loss if they chose to not open brick and mortar.
SBAC members commented that software training and janitorial procedure training has been insufficient to open schools safely.
Although more than a dozen citizens and students delivered remarks to the board about the decision, most comments were inaudible to the viewers and listeners of the meeting.
The board voted 3-2 to move forward with the fulltime brick and mortar reopening on Aug. 31st as described in the Alachua County Public School’s Florida Optional Innovative Reopening Plan.
Board Members Tina Certain and McNealy voted against.
They debated adding two more days at $460,000 per day of paid training for teachers learning the digital platform software, but the motion failed 2 to 3 with Hyatt, Roy and Gunnar Paulson voting against it.
SBAC Chair Eileen Roy said, “Every one of us agonized over this decision.”