During a virtual Senate panel Tuesday, the country’s leading infection disease expert gave recommendations, as well as warnings to people seeking to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic too soon.
One of the hot topics was education and when students would be returning to the classroom. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, stopped short of saying whether or not students should return in the fall.
He did say school openings should be on a case-by-case basis depending on the impacts of the virus in the area. Fauci also mentioned eight vaccines are undergoing clinical trials but doesn’t expect them to be ready by the start of fall semester.
“Even at the stop speed we’re going, we don’t see a vaccines playing into the ability of kids going back to school this term,” Fauci told Senators.
Fauci said even if the vaccine proves to be successful in trial, there’s no guarantee it will be effective for everyone. In some cases, he says a vaccine may enhance the symptoms of the virus.
“We don’t know everything about this virus, so we need to be careful, especially when it comes to children ... we better be careful if we are not cavalier to thinking children are immune,” Fauci said.
So what possible strategies are there for students heading back come August? Admiral Brett Girior, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said strategies for each school district may be different depending on the community spread of the virus.
A few strategies he suggested include: Requiring each student and staff to get tested at least once before returning to school, testing different groups of students throughout the school year or pool sampling and even testing sewage from campus dorms to detect signs of coronavirus
The panel said testing is going to play an important role in students going back to school. Girior also mentioned the White House is preparing to have about 30 million tests available for students starting in June.
Fauci said more spikes of the virus are inevitable and brought up his concerns about states reopening too soon.
“The consequences could be serious ... even if states are doing it at an appropriate pace. There is a real risk that you can trigger an outbreak you may not be able to control,” Fauci said.
News 6 reached out to local school districts and colleges to see what their plans for reopening are. Here are their responses:
The Florida Department of Education:
Ultimately, the goal is to reopen our school campuses. There’s no question that for the vast majority of students a great education occurs when a great teacher is directly in front of those students and those students are also learning from dialogue with each other. We also need to understand the kinds of supports that our students and teachers need, in order to be successful, both when campuses are reopened and during those periods when distance learning is ongoing. We realize that much of our work this summer and throughout the 2020-2021 school year will be devoted to helping students overcoming the additional learning loss they may have experienced, particularly for students with educational disadvantages, and lack of Internet access is one of those disadvantages. No matter exactly how we proceed we need to have sympathy and compassion for how these next steps affect everyone.
Moreover, that learning loss is likely to widen achievement gaps for those students who were already behind. So we’re having to think about the entire picture – access to Internet, the school calendar, parents and teachers’ comfort with returning to school campuses. These are all related and cannot be solved in isolation. We’re going to continue to work with our school leaders to best understand the challenges that Florida’s entire education family face as part of reopening and recovering.
Gov. DeSantis is taking a safe, smart, step-by-step approach to re-opening Florida by making data driven decisions to ensure the safety of all Floridians.
Orange County Public Schools:
The district is waiting on further direction from the FL Department of Education regarding the upcoming school year. The Board will continue to have discussions at upcoming board meetings and/or work sessions to prepare for what decisions need to be made. All discussion items are available on BoardDocs and meetings are live streamed on the School Board’s YouTube page.
Osceola County Public Schools:
Superintendent Pace is in the process of establishing an Osceola Back-to-School Task Force made up of parents, teachers, support staff, health care professionals, principals, and more to develop operational guidance for different scenarios based on what the data is telling us in July and August. Science, CDC guidelines, and our state and local data will guide what school looks like in the fall. At this time, no decisions have been made.
Brevard Public Schools:
Our school district is following the directives and recommendations of the Florida Departments of Education and Health along with CDC guidelines. We are operating on an unknown timeline as this global pandemic is not something that anyone has the ability to predict. In the interim, we are considering all possible scenarios for reopening based on guidance provided from these authorities. When we have definitive information to share, we will inform our families as we have been during the course of the COVID-19 crisis. As always, the safety and health of our students, staff and families remain our highest priority.
Seminole County Public Schools:
We are preparing as if we will be able to start the school-year as normal on our school campuses for face-to-face on August 10th.If campuses re-open as normal, there will be several new student and staff guidelines in place. However, because there’s still a lot of unknowns, we are additionally preparing for a variety of alternative scenarios such as a continuation of distance-learning like we’re doing now or a model of Virtual Options through our Seminole County Virtual School.We’re also pre-planning in case we have a second-wave of the pandemic and start the school year as normal, but then have to transition back to distance-learning if needed.All of our School Districts in Florida are taking guidance in coordination from the State of Florida, CDC, FL Dept. of Health, & FL Dept. of Education. Parents will be communicated with and notified as soon as we know once those decisions have been made. We will continue to be flexible and adjust as needed so that we can continue to deliver high-quality instruction to our SCPS students and families.
Marion County Public Schools:
As of this time, we are in discussion as to what the next school year looks like. We do not know the answers yet nor do we have a time frame on those answers as of now.