Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Karen Clarke and other officials representing Alachua Public Schools answered parent and teacher questions ranging from graduation plans to the future of school reopening this fall during a second Town Hall meeting on May 28th.
“What plans will be set in place to protect students, teachers and staff?” asked one caller.
“This is something that is on all of our minds, what school in the fall will look like, Clarke responded and described the thought process going on with school district leaders who are looking at the set up of classrooms, social distancing abilities, classroom capacity, and enhanced cleaning protocols.
Clarke said the district is looking at how students will transition from class to class noting that high school students change classes six times a day whereas elementary school students usually change once or twice.
“We receive new information every day and new CDC guidelines,” Clarke said about not knowing the exact standards that will be in place by August 10th, the scheduled start of the 2020-2021 school year.
“We want to make sure we have the safest possible environment for our students and employees when we return in the fall whether that’s August 10th or delayed.”
Clarke said most of the protocol will be determined by executive order from the Florida governor and from the Department of Education plus County regulations if there are any.
Executive Director of K-12 Curriculum Jenny Wise answered a question about graduation. “We are limiting each graduate to one car of spectators,” she said about the plans to hold graduations next week at Gainesville Raceway. Students will walk across the stage, she said.
“It’s definitely going to be different, but we are so grateful to be able to honor our graduates at the Gainesville Raceway this year on June 8, 9, and 10.
“Each graduate will have one car come to the raceway,” Wise said. Every student in their cap and gown will get out of their car, receive their diploma socially distanced from their principal and get back into their car, she explained, “and literally cross the finish line.” She added that the ceremonies will be broadcast and that the school district is, “Trying to make it memorable.”
One parent asked if families will have the option to choose to continue with online schooling in August. According to Clarke, a survey will be sent out in the next couple of weeks to get an idea about how families are feeling about distance learning. One question, Clarke said, will be, “Do you want your child to return to a brick and mortar school or stay online?”
Edwin Stefansen, Principal of the Alachua eSchool and Virtual Programs manager said that depending on grade level, and depending on where your child is at, that the eSchool is aligned and will be following the same curriculum.
“Alachua eSchool courses are all taught by local teachers, kindergarten through 12th grade,” he said. Anyone with questions about the program is directed to call the office at 352-955-7584 or visit the main district website.
Do you need to register kindergarteners if you might opt to continue with distance learning, one parent asked.
Director of Office of Student Assignment Kim Neal advised “yes.”
“If you are still questioning enrollment, go ahead and do that enrollment and keep tabs with the school with what the final decisions are,” Neal said.
“We want to make sure we have students registered and ready to go versus trying to do that last-minute scramble.” Neal said to register call 955-7700 to be walked through the online enrollment. “We were planning that prior to COVID-19,” Neal said about enrollment being online only for the 2020-2021 school year. “If you change your mind, you can let us know and we can undo that enrollment,” Neal said.
A parent was concerned about not receiving accommodations as provided in IEPs (individualized education plans) and was directed by Clarke to contact the principal of the school that would issue those and if that was not resolved, reach back out to Clarke.
Donna Kidwell, Executive Director Student Support Services said, “As we all know after March 13th that traditional schooling changed. While on distance learning we asked teachers and counselors to create a plan for accommodating the IEP.” Those adaptations should have followed the student to the home setting, Kidwell said. But not all accommodations can be applied at home, she said and suggested the parent reach out to the principal of the school and get information on the child’s teacher and ask which accommodations are in place for at home and how to implement them.
Wise discussed changes in how summer school will operate.
“We’re excited about ESY (Extended School Year),” Wise said. “Even if it’s not going to look like the ESY of the past. For all of our elementary schools grades, we’ll be in a distance learning format,” Wise said. “Every day your student should have the opportunity for live, focused instruction especially in reading. Several times a week your child could individually or in a very small group get some specialized, focused support on a special skill they may be working on directly related to their needs targeted to their growth.” The sessions will be recorded also to watch later.
Secondary students enrolled in ESY will be working virtually with credit retrieval, Wise said, “to make sure that they stay on track for graduation.”
And Wise added that if students needed more personalized support, they are working on ways that teachers can stay connected to give them that support.
“And for all of our students I’m so excited to let you know that our Summer Bridge launched today,” she said directing parents to the home page of Alachua County Public Schools. “There’s a bucket for primary, intermediate, middle and high school students full of so many opportunities for enrichment, for skills practices, virtual fieldtrips and more.” https://www.sbac.edu/
The goal said Wise is to, “Engage all students to continue learning throughout the summer.”
A teacher and coach asked about returning athlete to play.
Clarke said, “When it comes to the official sports seasons of football and basketball we are going to have to rely on FSHAA. They will be making those decisions as to when and if and how we continue with the official sports season.”
She recognized that in summer, teams do conditioning and said that the Florida governor opened up athletic activities. We’re working on setting up standards for social distancing, equipment cleaning, etc., she said.
The face mask issue was asked and Clarke said that will depend on class size and social distancing standards plus the guidance from the CDC and DOE.
“That will depend on where we are in August,” Clarke said. “We would certainly allow that. If the recommendation is with the CDC that they wear them, we will require them.”
Clarke described the sanitation efforts happening throughout the school district.
“Measures to sanitize classroom involves anti-viral cleaners,” she said. “The facilities department and custodial teams are addressing the cleaning.” For school bus cleaning standards the district is looking at what cities and other schools are doing with buses, she said and added that hand sanitizer dispensers are being installed on all buses and classrooms.
Another caller wanted to know about how long the WiFi bus would be active and Clarke said until at least June 30th and directed those interested to check the status here.
In closing the session Clarke said, “The finish to this school year has not been a traditional one and it has impacted our families in so many different ways.
“And we know that there are still many questions going forward. Our team is looking at every available option, looking at what other districts are doing, receiving our guidelines from the DOE and other state agencies that we rely on as we work together as a state for the public education of our students."