SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Seminole County Public Schools say they are ready to welcome back more than 4,500 students to face-to-face for the start of the second nine weeks beginning on Monday.
Of the 10,437 surveys returned to the district, school officials said 4,546 wanted to return to in-person learning.
Seminole Schools added nearly 6,000 of the 26,529 students learning remotely through the Seminole Connect program will not change their method of learning.
However, inside Winter Springs High School, Principal Pete Gaffney is getting ready to welcome back about 90 to 100 students, he said.
“We are welcoming the students with open arms, we can’t wait to have them back,” Gaffney said. “We have all of the safety and health protocols in place and we are excited to get them back on campus.”
Gaffney showed News 6 a physical science and chemistry classroom where already 20 desks were set up with partitions. He said they are working to use all space available to add any more students.
“We are going to spread them out as much as possible, continue to wear the face covering, continue with desk partitions to make sure we are spaced out and we are going to mist the classroom every night,” Gaffney said.
Gaffney said he’s grateful the district invested in ordering 35,000 desk partitions at the start of the school year, which school officials said they have on continuous stock as more students return to class. Some of that extra stock in PPE is partly thanks to Seminole County giving SCPS an additional $5 million in federal CARES Act money.
“Any time teachers tell us they need more, we put them an order and they get here in a couple of days time,” Gaffney said.
Seminole County Schools is also on standby for a shipment of free Binax rapid tests that the governor announced will be shipped to school districts by the end of the week.
“The fact that we are getting these will be helpful to us, but we are still waiting on those details on how to use them and the guidelines provided,” SCPS spokesman Michael Lawrence said.
However, Dan Smith, president of the teacher’s union Seminole Education Association, in a statement to News 6 shared his concerns with so many students returning face-to-face, specifically in regards to class sizes and high-risk teachers asked to come back.
"Our teachers range from being ready to do whatever is needed for our students – to being afraid as class sizes will exceed any safe-sizes. Seminole County Public Schools is not transparent regarding information on what the plan is to return students to the classroom. Teachers are not being told how many students are returning to their classes; teachers who were given remote accommodations in August, due to being at high risk, are being asked to return to class.
"As we are in a pandemic, the district should control the flow of returning students and wait until it is safe for students to return – but the district is allowing parents unlimited choice to change whenever they like. Parents would understand, under the current circumstances, that safety should be the priority over a parent’s want to return their child to face to face. Unfortunately, the district is not placing safety as the priority in returning students to the classroom.
“I will say that K-3 is overall safe numbers. Grades 6-12 are already high numbers. With 4500 kids returning and no additional teachers being hired – G-d help us all,” Smith wrote.
In response, Seminole County Schools said the plan to allow for parents to have this choice at the second quarter was the plan since the beginning of the second quarter.
"Many of the state restrictions have been lifted however, our district has chosen to maintain and keep our safety protocols in place as we had developed at the beginning of this school year.
We are being extremely accommodating and fair to both our hard working families and teachers to ensure we keep things as safe as possible and meet their instructional needs to the best of our ability.
In addition, we’ve worked together with the union and our community to develop the protocols and parameters we currently have in place. This has always been a team effort every step of the way. The district will continue to be flexible and adjust accordingly with whatever challenges and obstacles come our way. Just as we have from the beginning.
This is new territory for all of us, but despite this unforeseen pandemic, we maintain our commitment to make this school year the best it possibly can be and continue to move forward...together," Lawrence said in a statement.
Last month, Orange County announced that 15,792 of its students are changing from learning virtually to face-to-face for the second quarter, which also begins on Monday.