SANFORD, Fla. – At a news conference Friday, Seminole County’s sheriff and superintendent of public schools updated local parents on what to expect when sending their children back to classes on Wednesday, Aug. 10.
Seminole County Public Schools Superintendent Serita Beamon opened the conference by reaffirming the district’s intent to remain focused on supporting students still hurting from “the pandemic slide,” though the district as a whole has kept its grades up.
“Despite the challenges of last year, we’re happy that we have maintained our ‘A’ rating. That is a testament to our amazing students, teachers and administrators and their hard work that they put into the last school year,” Beamon said.
Beamon clarified for parents of students in Seminole County’s public middle schools that their kids would be on a 9:30 a.m. to 4:05 p.m. start/stop schedule for the 2022-23 school year, adding that the first day of school for all grades would end an hour early due to Wednesdays being early-release days.
The superintendent described dozens of open jobs in the district that, while not putting SCPS in as dire a situation as what Beamon said was happening in other parts of the state and country, still needed attention.
“Seminole County is also still looking for about 60 full time teachers, about 24 paraprofessional — that’s those teacher assistants — and about 30 school support staff,” Beamon said. “So while the shortages haven’t experienced as much of an impact here in Seminole County as throughout some of the state, we are still looking to actively fill those positions, and we will rely on our substitutes — long term substitutes — to help us get the school year started until those vacancies are filled.”
Though she said all bus routes will be covered on the first day of school, the district wants to hire 84 more drivers. Additionally, SCPS as of Friday morning had hired 15 behavioral interventionists, seven social workers and 10 mental health counselors to bolster the district’s mental health caretaking ahead of the new school year, Beamon said.
The superintendent added a job fair would be held Aug. 27 to address any remaining vacancies.
Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma talked school safety, reassuring parents that the district’s partnership with local law enforcement remains strong.
“We have a lieutenant that is assigned to the school safety division, three sergeants and then again, a dedicated, professionally-trained police officer or deputy sheriff on every single public school campus in Seminole County to include the charter schools. The elementary schools have one, the middle schools have one police officer or deputy and the high schools have anywhere from two to four considering that Seminole High School is one of the largest high schools in the state, they have anywhere from three to four Sanford police officers on that campus at any given time,” Lemma said. “Because of the unique relationship, we train and prepare for anything that may happen.”
Lemma urged district employees to embrace software developed by Raptor Technologies and implemented by SCPS, an emergency management solution developed for schools that allows law enforcement to “check in” regarding who’s on campus and what they’re seeing.
“We want to encourage all of our school teachers, faculty, staff to make sure that they download and are using that wonderful technology, there’s other technologies that are in use as well but we’re evolving and doing all that we can. I want people to know about that and I want them to download that app because it goes to the philosophy that safety is everybody’s responsibility,” Lemma said.
Learn more about Raptor on its website.
The sheriff reminded parents that traffic during the first several weeks of school will present problems, suggesting that parents dropping kids off at school allow time for the issues to resolve themselves.
“Don’t try to violate the rules, meaning don’t drop kids off in the middle of the street because you don’t want to wait in line; make sure that you get in and out there, that typically will calm down over the next several weeks but, at least we hope it does,” Lemma said.
For students on the bus, Lemma recommended they and their parents agree on a reunification location should their stop get skipped.
On the topic of gun safety, Lemma was asked for his pledge to parents who may be worried sending their children back to school following such recent incidents as a shooting at Seminole High School in January and the Uvalde school shooting in May.
“If the children, the parents and guardians, if the people that we serve had the opportunity to peer through the windows and watch the training, watch the dialog, see how we’re preparing, I am absolutely confident that they would be incredibly impressed. But let there be no mistake about if, if there’s an active threat on the campus, the men and women that are doing this job are going in and neutralizing that threat immediately, and I think on the national stage we have seen countless examples where that system did not work out, at least the way we train here,” Lemma said. “One of our key responsibilities is to protect our most vulnerable, and that will always be our kids and our elderly and always remain at the top of our list.”
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