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Lee County School District preps for novel academic year

By Staff | Jul 10, 2020

With Lee County Schools tentatively set to reopen Aug. 10, parents are looking at a choice among four models ranging from full in-school attendance to three remote learning alternatives – Lee Home Connect, Lee Virtual School and homeschool.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins presented the four reopening models to the school board on July 8.

Adkins said the district’s reopening plan has to be approved by the Department of Education. The plan has to be submitted by July 31. The document, which is currently in draft form of more than 60 pages, still needs board input, as well as discussions with the unions.

An approved plan, as it relates to state and federal funding, will leave the district in good shape.

On the other hand, if the district falls outside of getting an approved plan, it is a slippery slope in terms of funding, Adkins said.

“I think that the plan that we have is really one of the best plans we can put out there to deliver higher quality instruction in a safe way,” he said, adding that he believes it will gain approval.

On July 6, the State of Florida Department of Education issued an emergency order that declared, “All schools open. Upon reopening in August, all school board and charter school governing boards must open brick and mortar schools at least five days per week for all students, subject to advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health, local departments of health …”

The executive order also stated that the “day-to-day decision to open, or close a school, must always rest locally with the board, or executive most closely associated with a school.”

In addition, the board must provide a plan that provides families with the opportunity to send their child to school, or live “synchronous,” or “asynchronous instruction” with curriculum as in-person instruction.

REOPENING, CASE NUMBERS

The district will continue to monitor COVID-19 metrics and will make a final decision about reopening schools on the Aug. 10 target date on July 20.

Adkins said they will decide to either keep the Aug. 10 reopening date, or push it back further.

“We have been working on a number of ways to deliver education to our children and think about the future. It’s with great satisfaction that I bring this forward,” Adkins said of the high quality plan that staff has spent countless hours preparing during long nights and weekends. “This closure of schools has had an impact on students, and we are concerned about the achievement gap.”

The pandemic likely widened that gap, he said.

“Any plans must address these concerns,” Adkins said. “Our fragile learners, ELL students and students with an individual education plan need to be considered because they suffered to a greater degree than the overall entire population.”

He went on to say that the district recognizes that they are an integral part of the community and the economy. Parents need to work and provide income for families, Adkins said.

“We provide education for children and a place for support for social, emotional, health and nutritional needs,” he said, adding that if children do not have access to these needs, he believes they suffer.

The superintendent’s presentation also touched on that medical experts, the American Academy of Pediatrics, also believe there is a need for schools to reopen for those reasons.

We have to “strike a balance between absolute safety to providing these other needs, as well while recognizing the need of the community to have our schools open,” Adkins said. “We are going to try to adhere to some of these guidelines as best as we can and acknowledge there are some situations that we are going to come to a closer proximity less than 6 feet.”

IN-SCHOOL REALITIES

The Florida Department of Education commissioner and chancellors have provided guidance through both phone calls and text messages with templates for the district’s reopening efforts.

“With this has been a dose of reality that our school buildings are designed for social interaction, not designed for isolation,” Adkins said. “We can do social distancing to keep teachers and students safe. There is interaction that is going to take place. We have to provide for that safe interaction to take place and redesign how our schools operate.”

Chief Human Resource Officer Angela Pruitt said last week they asked principals to personally reach out and contact all of their teachers, which resulted in 97 percent of teachers reached. The survey resulted in 93 percent of elementary school teachers, 95 percent of middle school and 93 percent of high school teachers stating that they will return to work for face-to-face instruction.

There was a fluctuated range of teachers planning to wear masks, according to grade level and schools. The range in elementary school was from 29 percent to 100 percent wearing masks, 68 to 96 percent of high school teachers and 72 to 97 percent of middle school teachers wearing masks.

Pruitt said they do have teachers that are willing to come back face-to-face, work virtually, or being flexible within the different options.

“We still have a large number of teachers that are ready, willing and able to come back to work. They do have questions and concerns around safety and protocols. We are going to be able to work with our teachers and have a sustainable plan,” she said.

Pruitt said staff is currently working on guest teacher models, which would allow them to transition from in-person instruction to utilizing online resources that are available.

TRANSPORTATION

The meeting also discussed what transportation will look like once school returns in August.

Chief Operations Officer Dr. Kenneth Savage said they are estimating that they will have 20 to 40 riders per bus based on zone and grade level. With those numbers, the hope is that they are anticipating some level of social distancing to occur, but will fall short of the recommended 6 feet.

Due to the distancing shortfall, the task force recommends that face coverings are required to be worn on buses and will be provided to those who need them. In addition, hand sanitizer is encouraged, but will be provided, assigned seating will be issued and cleaning will occur between bus routes.

“The seating will be assigned and very strategic,” Savage said, adding that students will be segregated based on bus stops and if they have siblings. “This type of isolated strategy will help with potential contact tracing.”

SAFETY MEASURES

There was also a plethora of information provided by Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jeff Spiro regarding health and safety for students entering campuses this school year.

There will be a staggered arrival and dismissal of students; temperatures taken once students arrive on campus with those who have a fever of 100.4 or higher being sent home, or to an isolation room. Spiro said there will be predesignated spots where students will have their temperatures taken.

He said there will be challenges with arrival and dismissal, which will result in a loss of instructional time. As they fine tune the process instructional time with increase.

Students who arrive late to school will come through a one-way entrance to have their temperatures taken. There also will be limited visitors on campus.

Contracted services, such as therapies and mental health counselors will be permitted.

Breakfast will be in the Grab-&-Go fashion and will be consumed in a social distancing setting and lunch will be provided in staggered shifts to allow for social distancing inside, or outside.

The schools will limit large gatherings in hallways/common areas and have one-way hallways with signage. In the classroom there will be assigned seats and “cohorts,” or select groups, as much as possible, as well as removing excess furniture and social distance to the best of each school’s ability.

The task force also made the decision Tuesday night to require face coverings during class transitions, or large areas, or in the classroom when social distancing is not feasible. There will be designated spots in the school where face masks will be provided.

Due to teachers wanting their students to see their faces, and lips, while teaching, face shields will also be accepted.

Students will not share supplies and will place their belongings by their seat.

At the elementary school level, special area teachers will be rotated into the classroom. Within middle schools, teachers of the same grade will be closer together, so there is not additional movement in the hallway, which will make transitions smoother.

At the high school level, grade levels will be together to minimize traffic in hallways as much as possible.

Spiro said they will do their best to keep cohorts of students together to limit cross interaction with other students during the day.

Hand sanitizer will be available at various places on campus and plastic barriers will be in place in reception areas.

Spiro said students will be encouraged to bring their own water bottles and water. For those who do not have one, disposable cups will be available. Water fountains will be available for students and daily cleaning will be done on those surfaces.

IEP meetings and parent conferences will use a virtual platform. Spiro said he experienced greater attendance while using Zoom meetings.

Social distancing also will be encouraged within the school’s restrooms. Schools will put a plan together to have personnel available in those areas to limit the number of students to enter.

There will be no vending machines at the school. As for field trips, Spiro said they will be limited to virtual ones.

Once the students return to school they will focus on the whole child and getting students familiar with procedures and practicing those procedures.

“We want to get those pieces down for students and staff to feel safe,” Spiro said.

As for cleaning procedures, Savage said the methods that take place during the flu season will be scaled up for COVID-19.

“This increased frequency will be something you can anticipate,” he said.

Custodial staff will be staggered to increase daytime cleaning and there will be high frequency cleaning of surfaces.

Efforts have also been taken regarding air quality methods by using a deep evaporated cleaning and optimizing their HAVAC systems to enhance safety.

Savage said they are also monitoring CO2 levels by allowing more fresh air into air conditioning and therefore the schools. He said there will be a better mixture of fresh air, which is powerful to reduce airborne infection.

When a deep cleaning response protocol needs to be taken, due to confirmed or presumed positive cases of COVID-19, they will bring in fogging crews. The bio material will kill the virus in 20 seconds, Savage said.

WHAT IS NEXT

Adkins said the next steps include working with TALC and SPALC to begin the bargaining process, survey families regarding their primary choice and transportation, as well as exploring school start date and instructional hours and options.

“I want to offer a special thank you to all those people that participated, particularly those members of the task force,” he said. “These are a really broad section of Lee County in terms of representation. Their participation is wonderful. This takes a lot of courage for these people to participate. They stepped up to the plate and provided us excellent guidance and excellent opinions.”