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After weeks of intensive work that included reviews of return-to-school plans from districts across Florida and other states, surveys of families and staff, consultations with local healthcare experts and guidance from the Florida Department of Education, Alachua County Public Schools has released a DRAFT plan for the reopening of schools in the fall of 2020.

That plan is available on the district’s website.

The plan outlines strategies that will be implemented depending on the community spread of the virus—no spread, minimal/moderate spread and significant spread. According to the Alachua County Health Department, Alachua County is currently in the minimal/moderate spread category, although that could change.

Karen Clarke

Alachua County Public School Superintendent Karen Clarke.

The plan also offers families different educational options ranging from in person instruction to a Digital Academy to enrollment in the Alachua eSchool. Under the Digital Academy option, students would receive individualized instruction at home, including live lessons. Students would be expected to be engaged in digital learning following their typical school schedule—for example, 7:45 a.m. to 1:52 p.m. for most elementary schools.

Students enrolled in Alachua eSchool would receive virtual instruction from eSchool teachers which allows for more flexibility, particularly in terms of a schedule. Alachua eSchool has been in place for several years and currently serves about 3000 full- and part-time students.

More information on all options will be provided to all families during the week of July 6th.

A survey previously sent to parents showed a plurality of the more than 12,000 respondents (about 36%) completely supported a return to in-person schooling with precautions, including frequent handwashing and enhanced cleaning of facilities, while about 26% did not.

“We recognize that no single plan will meet every family’s needs, particularly in this very challenging environment,” said Superintendent Karen Clarke. “What we’ve tried to create is a draft plan that provides options and covers a variety of scenarios depending on the course of the virus.

The draft plan has been reviewed by the Alachua County Health Department and the district’s medical director, a pediatrician with UF Health. District staff will remain in constant contact with local healthcare professionals about COVID-19 and its impact on schools.

The district will be seeking more input from staff, families and the community before the plan is finalized, which is scheduled for July 15th. A school board workshop on July 8th at 2 p.m. will include a presentation on the draft plan, including the instructional options, and an opportunity for citizens to comment and ask questions. That workshop will be held online and will be open to the public. In the meantime, citizens can submit their input at returntoschool@gm.sbac.edu.

The district currently plans to reopen schools to students on August 10th. Emails, texts and phone messages with a link to the plan are being sent to all families in the district. 

“Ultimately our goal is to provide a high-quality education and other critical services to our students while promoting their health and well-being and that of our families and staff,” said Clarke.

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