SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Seminole County Public School board members held a virtual meeting Thursday to discuss ways to reopen schools safely in the fall.
“I’m looking for direction today, board members, in the use of face masks and specifically taking temperatures how to minimize large groups,” Superintendent Dr. Walt Griffin explained. “Hands down, this is one of the greatest challenges in my eight years as superintendent.”
School board attorney Serita Beamon presented a 130-page document of recommendations from the Florida Department of Education regarding reopening schools across the state.
"What that document makes it clear is that educational programs should maintain maximum distance between students and desks. The reality is that this distance may often not be able to reach six feet," Beamon said.
Beamon also explained another recommendation for keeping students and staff safe is by setting up a secondary clinic at all campuses which could be used for students showing symptoms of COVID-19.
"The recommendation is at we consider screening students and employees and visitors through a variety of ways then we should consider a contact tracing protocol in conjunction with our health officials," Beamon said.
The suggested recommendations include students wear a mask, minimize student movement throughout the buildings during the day, minimize large groups, and offer ways to interact virtually for things like athletics and performing arts.
School board members are also going over 17,000 surveys submitted by parents last week regarding the reopening of schools.
Survey results show most high school parents favored their children always wearing masks, while elementary school parents did not agree it should be required throughout the entire day.
Parents were split on whether or not students or parents should be given a choice on students wearing a mask throughout the day.
Not everyone will be part of on-campus learning though; full-time enrollment at Seminole County’s virtual school already jumped from around 100 last year, to more than 1200.
“You’re going to see a large scale-up of students being considered to take all their classes virtual,” Executive Director ePathways & Strategic Partnerships Jason Wysong said.
The district’s recommendations dive into a lot of “what-ifs,” including what if school capacity has to shrink to anywhere from 25-50%. In that case, district leaders said high school students would go back to distance learning, so high school buildings could be used to spread out elementary school students, and maintain in-class learning for K-5.
District leaders recognized how funding limited some of their decisions such as how they would need 881 additional buses and drivers to properly social distance on a school bus, at a cost of more than $141 million.
"It is not feasible to reduce students on a bus," Amy Elwood, director of school student support services, said.
School leaders hope to review a final plan at their school board meeting next month.
“We’re relying on the public to do what’s right as we see spikes in cases in our own back door,” school board member Kristine Kraus said. “I can’t in good conscience open up our doors and wait for our first case to happen.”
The first day of school in Seminole County is set for August 10th.
To view the full survey results and work session recommendations, look at the presentation below.