SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – The Seminole County School Board approved a plan on Tuesday to send students back to school in August as COVID-19 cases across Florida continue to rise by the thousands on a daily basis.
Seminole County schools leaders started the work session at 8:30 a.m. The school board and district staff members have been working on details for reopening for in-person learning after the Florida Department of Education issued an executive order telling schools to physically reopen in August.
Nearly 12 hours after the session began, the board approved the plan in a four-to-one vote, and approved a measure to delay the start of the school year from Aug. 10 to Aug. 17.
Under the approved plan, parents will have a choice of how their child will be educated when classes resume.
The choices range from the traditional in-class, face-to-face learning to completely virtual, with hybrid choices in between (more information is below).
Parents will need to decide which course of action they plan to take by July 24 or their child will be automatically placed in a physical classroom.
“This is extremely serious. It scares the daylights out of me,” said board member Abby Sanchez.
During discussion on Tuesday, Sanchez told her colleagues this decision hits very close to home for her.
“I know 10 people that died. My twin sister had it, my daughter had it, my son-in-law had it. This is not a joking matter,” he said.
In late June, a Seminole County School District task force met to discuss a variety of ideas on how to reopen safely and go over results from a parent survey gauging how they feel about certain safety measures. Some ideas included requiring masks, limiting student movement throughout the day and creating a secondary clinic where anyone exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms can be isolated.
The work session laid out district-specific details for reopening Seminole County schools, safety standards and how to handle any possible coronavirus infections for the 2020-2021 school year.
In Seminole County, nearly 4,500 people have tested positive for the respiratory illness since March, including 24 fatalities.
Following the work session, the school board started another meeting at 5 p.m.
The presentation used during the session can be viewed by clicking here.
Look below for updates from the meeting
The board voted to move first day of school to Aug. 17. This decision includes nine preplanned days in October.
Parents have until July 24 to make a decision on which of the following options they want to enroll their students in:
- Face to Face learning, traditional in-school learning
- Seminole County Virtual School, at-home online courses on your family’s schedule
- Seminole Connect, At-home learning from teachers at a student’s school during school hours
- Combination of plans to meet unique schedules
Seminole County Schools passed a back to school framework amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The vote was 4 to 1.
The district will send the framework to Tallahassee to get approval from the Department of Education.
School board members are currently discussing the option of changing the school calendar.
Superintendent Walt Griffin said he is asking information systems experts with the district to make a presentation at the next school board meeting concerning cyber security and WebCams in virtual classes.
Public comment ended with about 30 people submitting video and written statements to be put into the record to the school board.
Staff at the school district will now go over changes that they’ve made to the proposal for reopening schools in the fall.
Public comment being read includes teachers who want to come back to school, a parent who doesn’t want his kindergartener wearing a mask @news6wkmg— Erik Sandoval (@ErikSandoval) July 14, 2020
The Seminole County School Board is showing videos from parents who have submitted public comments concerning plans to open schools next school year.
One parent said that her son would be used as a pawn and she’s concerned for his safety.
The school board is expected to vote on a plan to reopen schools.
More than 1600 people are waiting to virtually watch the Seminole Co school boarding meeting @news6wkmg— Erik Sandoval (@ErikSandoval) July 14, 2020
Final comments during the discussion portion of the SCPS workshop included a number of topics that leaders say will depend on enrollment numbers, immediate resources available, and when the plan will be implemented. Inquiries included:
- Will there be a limit to the number of students in a classroom for teachers opting to educate in-person?
- Will at-risk teachers get preference to teach virtual school?
- Will there be a sanitization station in each classroom or only in marked areas?
- How would delaying the school start date impact the following semester?
- Will Seminole County schools be encouraged to familiarize students with new standardized testing expected to be implemented for the 2021-2022 school year?
- Will the district further outline the specific requirements for face coverings as part of its dress code policy?
The meeting was adjourned shortly after 1:30 p.m. The school board is expected to meet and finalize its decision later Tuesday evening.
A board member expressed the realities of how low enrollment numbers could impact the return to the classroom.
Pointing to enrollment for summer programs with low attendance, the board member said this could cause the suspension of certain school activities come fall.
“Parents advance notice as I said enrollment is low and do need to work collaboratively to make good use of our resources so there is a possibility that several of our programs will be suspended until further notice as a result of low.
When offering feedback, Sanchez emphasized the importance of meeting the needs of teachers and children when ironing out the final details of the reopening plans.
We (need to) have guidance counselor hours, social workers that are able to meet the kids’ needs and we have something they’re readily available for families, students and for faculty,” she said.
She also raised an important point of asking Gov. Ron DeSantis to keep Common Core for longer than anticipated as opposed to switching to the B.E.S.T. standardized testing model set to slowly be implemented the upcoming academic year and fully implemented 2021-2022 school year.
Board members opened the floor for discussion with Superintendent Walt Griffin asking for thorough feedback before solidifying the proposed plan to reopen schools.
“I will tell you in my heart I feel like this plan is serving our students, very, very, well. I want to make sure that our employees are comfortable,” he said. “Before we bring this to vote this evening [I want to make sure] that we’re at a pretty good spot for our employees.”
When questioned about delaying the school start date, he said it could push back teacher pay.
The board has the option to delay as late as Aug. 31. Teachers’ first payday is scheduled Aug. 7 with full paychecks Aug. 21, according to Griffin.
Griffin said the district could give educators more planning day and move teacher workdays to the beginning of the year or even delay the school start date into September.
School board members presented the expenses related to COVID-19 and line items they are taking into account as they tradition to learning in the era of the pandemic.
(See photo below for anticipating break down)
Though to become COVID-19 compliant for the return of the school year will cost thousands, the district says most of the costs will be reimbursed through federal funding such as FEMA which would cover cleaning and sanitization products and the CARES Act which would assist with other line items.
As far as CARES Act funding, school board leaders hope to use the millions they received to close the digital divide among students and support those who may not have access to certain technology for at-home learning. Some of the funds will also be used to support what the district has deemed academically fragile students to make sure no child’s education suffers.
Dr. Tim Harper, Chief Technology Officer for Seminole County Public Schools, discussed the registration process parents will go through to register their student for the learning model of their choice.
Harper said the county has received or will receive 1,500 Lenovo Chromebooks, 60 donated Chromebooks, 10 Cisco DX80 Telepresence Systems and 100 T-Mobile MiFi Hotspots that would support students who will be learning remotely or partially remotely. Harper said 500 Logitech Webcams and 3,000 Lenovo Chromebooks were on backorder.
Julie Murphy, Director of Transportation for Seminole County Public Schools, said that as new health and safety precautions are put in place for student and staff safety on busses, delays should be expected.
“Sanitizing of the bus, we are trying to build in a few extra minutes between drop off in the school and (pick) the next students up. We want to ensure that those buses are disinfected. So the drivers will have everything they need at their fingertips, and they will take a few minutes just to spray it down,” Murphy said. “The chemical we’re using is, it does not require wiping. So once they spray, they can move on and it has a five to 10 minute contact time. So we really put a lot of thought into finding a chemical that was acceptable for the bus, okay for the students to be around.”
Murphy said that bus drivers will also have the added responsibility of working to ensure that students keep their face masks on while riding the bus.
“We’re hoping the parents will get behind us on this and really educate the students,” Murphy said. “Drivers will do the very best they can and will work with the school administrators to try to encourage some kind of maybe a program or a plan... to encourage those students to (wear their masks).”
Julie Murphy, Director of Transportation for Seminole County Public Schools, outlined the following protocols for keeping students and staff safe while using district transportation:
- Students are required to wear face coverings while riding on a school bus
- A student registration system will be established to identify potential ridership and allow for the development of assigned seating
- Transportation vehicles will be cleaned and disinfected regularly throughout the school day
- The touch point surfaces (e.g., seats, belt buckles, doors, windows) will be cleaned and disinfected throughout the vehicles prior to morning routes and before afternoon routes
- Trained employees will deep clean buses each night; the buses will be misted with disinfectant to include the AC vents
- If a student becomes sick during the day, he/she will not use group transportation to return home
- If a driver becomes sick during the day, he/she must not return to drive students
- Touchless hand sanitizer dispensers will be provided for students to use as they enter the bus
- Drivers/monitors/other staff will wear face coverings while transporting students
School board members discussed health and safety protocols when it comes to students dining in common areas during lunchtime.
“The health and the safety of our team and guests is a high priority because the reality of it is our team can’t remotely wash fresh fruits and vegetables, they can’t remotely prepare meals. They can’t remotely serve students, we need them there on-site to take care of our family. So for us, it starts with a healthy team. And we’re going to continue with our daily temperature and wellness checks, we’re going to continue with our frequent handwashing,” Chad Wilsky, Director of Red Apple Dining, said.
Amy Elwood, Intervention Services Director for Seminole County Public Schools, detailed policies for campus visitors and volunteers.
“We had more than 200,000 contacts on campus last year, so we do want to minimize the number of people in the building, other than employees and students,” Elwood said.
Programs like plays and sporting games that would bring people onto campus were also discussed.
“Fine arts and athletics come up a lot, we have excellent fine arts programs in our district, we’ve touched on this last time quite a bit. We’ve kind of firmed it up a little bit different based on some feedback and schools are exploring alternative indoor and outdoor facilities to hold classes, promote social distancing and opportunities,” Elwood said. “For athletics, they are going to adhere to the Florida High School Athletic Association guidelines. Sanitizer stands are going to be placed at all venues, and they’re going to look at also recording the (events so individuals can) watch remotely when it’s available. They’re going to establish the sanitation procedures for shared equipment, and everybody who is attending will be required to wear facial capris and practice social distancing.”
Superintendent Walt Griffin said that parent notes would be accepted if a child misses class due to possible symptoms of COVID-19. School board members said that since a student can’t go to the doctor for every sniffle or cough, parent notes would be accepted to excuse a child’s absence should they show any symptoms in lieu of a doctor’s note.
“We are going to accept parent notes, and we’ve also asked to stop on the student perfect attendance awards,” Griffin said.
School board members discussed classroom safeguards to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 should an infected student or staff member come to campus.
According to a presentation, safeguards include:
- After-hours high touch surface disinfection of classroom spaces with hospital-grade misting machines
- Increased cleaning of high-touch/high traffic classroom areas during the day
- Provision of soap, sanitizer, paper towels, tissue for classroom staff throughout the year
- At elementary, students to stay with same class as much as feasible throughout the day
- At secondary, limit the amount of class changes during the day
- Limit sharing of personal items/supplies
- Limit the sharing of classroom supplies to small groups
- Arrange desks to be as physically distanced as possible
- Coordinate placement of physical barriers such as plexiglass at reception desks in front lobbies, guidance reception areas, and discipline offices, and in other high traffic/contact areas as noted by building administrators
- Signage for social distancing/traffic flow in common areas, lobbies, elevators, restrooms, and locker rooms, etc.
- Rearrange/remove furniture in common areas to avoid crowding
- Limit capacity in break rooms/conference rooms to allow for social distancing
- Monitor arrival/dismissal to discourage congregating and ensure that students go straight from vehicle/buses to classrooms or designated waiting areas
- Limit non-essential visitors and activities involving external groups or organizations
- Supply soap, hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol, paper towels, and tissue
District leaders discussed how students and staff would be monitored for symptoms of COVID-19 when coming to campus for in-person instruction.
“SCPS will employ a combination of self-screening and observational screening protocols for universal screening of illness of staff and students,” a presentation by school board members read. “The district and schools will communicate information to parents and employees about the symptoms of COVID-19 and require them to self-screen before coming to school. Students and employees exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 without being otherwise explained, are prohibited from coming to school, and if they do come to school, they should be sent home immediately.”
Additionally, school board members said each campus would need to designate two separate clinic spaces to distinguish students and employees being evaluated for symptoms related to COVID-19 and those who have other medical or injury needs. In all clinic spaces, students and employees would be required to wear face coverings and required PPE, according to a presentation.
“We are going to make sure that all teachers have enough adequate supplies in their classroom,” a school board member said.
School board leaders discussed health and safety measures that would be implemented when students return to campus, should they choose the face-to-face learning model.
“Face coverings as we talk to our local health officials, as we talked to the team are one of the best preventions of spread. So, wearing face coverings is required in the new revisions for staff, and any other adults visiting our campuses. And as consistent with state and local guidelines including when they cannot be six feet away from others. They are not required when eating or drinking or engaging in high-intensity physical exertion like exercising during PE and recess,” a school board member said. “Accommodations can be made for staff that have underlying health conditions or for whom the face covering would cause an impairment or, and this came up in our last session too, for people communicating with someone that is hearing impaired where they’re seeing the mouth is required to communicate.”
Board members said elementary students grades K through five will be required to wear a face covering while walking in hallways or riding the bus.
“We spoke a lot with transportation officials, and we’re going to get to transportation a little later in detail. But it’s one of those areas, there’s no way to distance. That’s a very confined space and we really want to be protective of our staff and students on transportation so face coverings on best transportation are critically important,” a board member said. “Students can remove their face coverings during high-intensity outdoor activities, while in their classroom working at their desk, and while seated for dining within their classroom group. Secondary students grade six through 12 are also required to wear face coverings when they are not able to be six feet from others, or in hallway transitions or class changes in large common areas are (on the bus), and are in line in the dining room area. Their face coverings may be removed for high-intensity outdoor activities and when seated at the dining table for eating.”
A board member said secondary students would be held to a higher expectation of being able to tolerate mask wearing for longer periods during the day.
Board members discussed making sure that students in the Seminole Connect program learn at the same rate online as their peers who are enrolled in face-to-face learning, emphasizing that teachers will play a pivotal role in streamlining education.
“I think the positive thing about that is they will have their same teacher, they will have if they were in the classroom that’s what they’ll be set up, which means that that teacher will actually be able to communicate with those students who are going through Seminole Connect and make sure they have the resources,” Mike Gaudreau, Executive Director of High Schools, said. “So if we are able to do the webcams, and those types of things, the student will actually be getting the same instruction. If there are handouts and things like that, that they can put in Ecampus. The student will still have access to it. So having that same teacher, I think, is going to be a key to making that part of it for unique classes like IB and AP work.”
School board leaders discussed measures to track student learning and success and to make sure that no student falls through the achievement gap, especially with remote learning.
“We’ll continue progress monitoring each student to make sure that we don’t lose any of the kids through this whole process,” Anna-Marie Cote, Deputy Superintendent for Seminole County Public Schools, said.
Superintendent Walt Griffin also addressed concerns over technology and making sure all students have access to the tools they need to learn should they choose a remote schooling option.
“I’m not pretending that it’s not going to be a challenge. We did it when we pivoted this entire district. So my way of thinking if we did it then, this will be on a smaller scale. We can do it again. And that was not we’re not without challenges without bumps in the road but we will. We are committed to providing the technology that families,” Griffin said.
Anna-Marie Cote, Deputy Superintendent for Seminole County Public Schools, discussed options for students who prefer remote learning but still want to participate in school activities.
“One clarity that we want our families to know is that regardless of the option they choose, their students can participate in their zone, their choice school’s sports and activities... So that doesn’t mean if they’re Seminole County Connect that they can’t be on an athletic team,” Cote said. “Moving forward with their program at the elementary level, with special area classes, we have some remote support designed for the Seminole Connect model because, as you know, there’s one teacher that teaches P.E., one that teaches music, they can’t be everywhere. So we’ve got some options. There will be providing for the seminal Connect families who are not on campus.”
School board leaders discussed the possibility of using shields at student desks to enhance safety measures in classrooms.
“But I just want to tell you, as you know, two weeks ago when I reached out to try to get shields, they were not available and they were very expensive. Just last night, we received word that we may be able to get them for a more reasonable price,” Superintendent Walt Griffin said. “I don’t want everyone on this call to think we’re going to have shields for every desk or every classroom, but we are going to be able... to help out more with your small groups do the best that we can. We’ve also tweaked the mask language, a little bit to help so I think we’ll get to that portion you’ll feel a little bit better and we can tweak it even more if we have to.”
Deputy Superintendent Anna-Marie Cote discussed how teachers would work to instruct students across different learning models.
“One teacher may be a Seminole Connect teacher and have all of their students that are learning through Seminole Connect. A second teacher now may have 14 of her students face-to-face, and those other four students as her Seminole Connect. The advantage of that is, of course, efficiencies, right, because if we cut those students spread out and all the third grade when everybody has to teach remotely and everybody needs cameras and everything. I mean, it just compounds the instructional model,” Cote said.
School board member Dr. Tina Calderon thanked Deputy Superintendent Anna-Marie Cote for the planning and consideration that went into creating alternative learning options for students when schools reopen.
“I can’t thank you and your team enough for the professionalism and the thought leadership that you put into these different instructional models I know you’ve had teachers involved,” Calderon said. “And, and I also just wanted to share all the school board members we’ve been getting many, many emails with some phenomenal input from our teaching staff from our other employees within the district, and they’re very emotionally driven as Dr. Husty said, a lot of where we are in the world today. It’s hard to lead by science and facts and data, because there isn’t any longitudinal research.”
District leaders discussed the importance of having plans in place should brick and mortar schools need to close again as the pandemic continues.
“I can’t reiterate how important it is to prepare ourselves for the event of perhaps a school or district to close and need that flexibility... So I know that’s something you’re weighing heavily on all of you, and we’re very sensitive to that and hope that you’ll give us guidance on the plans that we currently recommend,” Anna-Marie Cote, Deputy Superintendent for Seminole County Public Schools, said.
Leaders also discussed different types of reopening instructional models that ranged from face-to-face learning, hybrid models and completely virtual schooling.
“Face-to-face is what was happening before March. It’s how we all know and love school and many of us just have loved school since we started kindergarten or pre-K, and that that’s that model that families send their children to school, they’re there for the full day, families that are eligible for transportation, come in the morning, they’re brought home at the end of the academic day,” Cote said. “Teachers at the school are teaching those children.”
The next option discussed was a remote learning option called Seminole Connect.
“And what that looks like, is families learning at home. And they’re there, if they choose Seminole Connect, then, then they’re going to stay at home for their entire school day... So, if a family elects Seminole Connect, then, if their reading block starts at 8:30, with their teacher at their school. And they will log on at 8:30 and begin their reading block,” Cote said. “This Seminole Connect model, students stay connected to their zone school or to their choice school... They’re still connected, even though they’re at home.”
The Seminole County virtual school model is more flexible than the Seminole Connect option.
“If you’re a full-time Seminole County Virtual School student, you’re learning at home. And the difference is that you will be on your own schedule,” Cote said. “So for the virtual option, we’re asking families who would like that model to complete their first semester courses, and then they can come back and join us.”
Cote said hybrid options are also available.
“If a family would like to combine the face-to-face, so they want to come in the morning block, and then they want to go home and finish with Seminole County Connect... we’ll do our best to accommodate that. Of course, they would provide the transportation,” Cote said.
Leaders also provided a decision tree outline that would provide parents with a path to deciding the best learning option for their student.
Anna-Marie Cote, Deputy Superintendent for Seminole County Public Schools, provided guidance on what framework for remote instruction could look like when schools reopen.
“The expectation is that the students in the remote model would have the same standards-based curriculum and instructional hours, whether they were in person, or whether they were at home, and we all appreciate and agree with that. Our students need access to learning the Florida standards, regardless of the model that they engage in,” Cote said. “We must have a system for monitoring daily engagements in every class, very different than distance learning. Some students were able to engage on random days throughout the week because of technology issues, because of family circumstances or (other) reasons.”
Leaders discussed ramifications or consequences should board members determine that reopening brick and mortar schools under the state’s executive order is not in the best interest of the school district.
Serita Beamon, Executive Director of Legal Services for SCPS, said she would not advise board members to decide against reopening brick and mortar schools.
“I would also advise the board members that the Florida constitution specifically provides that elected officials may be removed from office by the governor of the state... I can’t give you a roadmap of what would happen because we haven’t been down that road before. I would counsel the board that you are to, and your determinations comply with the law (of) Florida,” Beamon said.
Seminole County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Walt Griffin reiterated to board members that the health and safety of all staff and students was of the utmost importance when considering school reopening plans.
“You’re going to see a distance learning option, and more specificity, related to cleaning and sanitizing, and your the challenge of for us is yes, this is about our 67,000 students, but we also care very deeply about our 8,000 employees and coming up with something that meets what we have to do statutorily is very, it’s complicated, and it’s important,” Griffin said. “So I’m very, very open board members to your feedback on today’s draft. After this work session I will rework and insert what we have to put in to make this plan the best that it can be with the understanding that this situation is changing, daily, we get ongoing reports of different situations. But I want our employees to feel more comfortable than they are feeling right now.”
School district leaders discussed the results of a survey gauging employee feedback on school reopening plans.
Leaders said 70% of Seminole County Public School employees participated in the survey.
Based on the survey, given to staff members in early July, three categories were identified as important topics for employees:
- Masks and coverings: staff expressed concerns that masks should be required or mandatory as part of school reopening plans
- Distance learning: some staff members expressed strongly that distance learning options should be a more prominent part of SCPS reopening plans
- Cleaning and sanitizing: staff members expressed their feelings that special attention needed to be given to ensuring all school environments and facilities should be consistently kept as sanitized as possible
Dr. Todd Husty, Seminole County’s medical director, was asked how schools should handle sending students home should they display any possible symptoms of COVID-19.
“So anybody with an acute illness that is not previously identified, and even then you should probably, if it’s previously identified, you might want to take a temp, because the person who has asthma may think they have asthma back, but it’s not, it’s coronavirus, you know,” Husty said. “So instead of the kids are going to be getting fevers, I mean not every kid is without symptoms. So, again, it’s an acute illness not previously identified, like the exacerbation of a chronic condition.”
Dr. Todd Husty, Seminole County’s medical director, was asked if he would be comfortable sending his school-aged children back to school if he had them.
“I believe I (would) choose yes, but I also didn’t have other a lot of other people to worry about as far as it people at risk, and nobody is really at risk in my life,” Husty said.
Husty also said that there is a chance children could be asymptomatic carriers for COVID-19, reiterating the importance of social distancing and hygiene in schools.
“We don’t have good hard data, as far as I could find, but it appears that kids have asymptomatic disease as often, or maybe even more often than symptomatic disease,” Husty said. “That’s why temperature taking, yeah, it’s fine, if you find a positive you can send them home. But the negative doesn’t really tell you anything. So there’s, there’s going to be a fair amount of asymptomatic carriers.”
Dr. Todd Husty, Seminole County’s medical director, encouraged school board members to consider pushing back the start date of the school year.
“I‘m a little concerned about the trajectory (cases of COVID-19 have) been taking lately. And I know that you’ve probably considered postponing. I think that if that’s viable, you should do it,” Husty said. “The trajectory is just not what we’d like to see. We’ve started going down right now that’s a no brainer. I mean I think then everybody’s doing something right but we haven’t proven to the community to doing all the right stuff stops this (disease). I think you’re going to get a lot of pushback on people who don’t have confidence in facial covering, social distancing, washing environmental surfaces. I don’t think they have that confidence right now, because, by the way, this is a very psychological thing.”
Dr. Todd Husty, Seminole County’s medical director, discusses the risks associated with children returning to school amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is risk. I mean, no matter what you do, you cannot get rid of all the risk, no matter what you decide upon, and parents probably need to know that they need to know that we can’t get rid of all risk, but the risk is small,” Husty said. “Oh by the way, so then there’s the risk of taking it home to mom and dad. Well there. It’s interesting is that when you compare the numbers for the 30 to 40 year olds and the 40.”
Seminole County spokesman Michael Lawrence told News 6 on Tuesday that the district is planning on an August 10 start date. Orange County, meanwhile, announced earlier in the day that officials will ponder a proposal to move back the start date to August 21.
SCPS will hold a work session Tuesday ahead of a school board meeting at 5:30 p.m. as the district hopes to finalize plans to reopen its schools next month.
Lots of big decisions happening today in school districts across Central FL. Leaders with @SCPSInfo are holding a work session at 8:30 a.m. to discuss reopening options for the fall. A special school board meeting will then happen at 5:30 p.m. https://t.co/wohtl0DXun pic.twitter.com/aPFp96KOnG— Mark Lehman (@MarkLehman6) July 14, 2020