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School reopenings may be pushed back

By Staff | Jul 17, 2020

As a few board members continue to push for in-person graduations for the Class of 2020, Lee County’s schools superintendent said he could not recommend that because COVID-19 case numbers are concerning enough that the first day of school may be delayed by two to three weeks.

Board member Melisa Giovannelli reiterated during the July 15 meeting held via Zoom that the district should hold a graduation for seniors at a City of Palms stadium downtown.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said they have been in contact with the Department of Health and the agency continues to caution against any kind of large gathering. For this reason, he said he does not recommend having any large graduations at this time.

Adkins said they are currently evaluating opening schools and are looking to push back the start of school by at least two weeks, potentially three.

He shared with the board that the Calendar Committee will convene on July 20 and look at some scheduling options.

“In light of everything going on right now with reopening and the potential of pushing back the start of schools, I don’t think it would be prudent at this time to put another graduation ceremony in place,” Adkins said. “The drive-thru is the best option we can offer under the current conditions. This is the best course of action at this time.”

Board member Betsy Vaughan said she was happy to hear that Adkins and his executive staff are looking at possibly pushing back the start date two to three weeks.

Board Chair Mary Fischer said they are going to have to take a look at mental and emotional status of students and staff because they might not be ready to learn due to the pandemic. She said there has been a dramatic increase in domestic violence and child abuse calls among law enforcement adding children may be traumatized in some way and need additional support.

Adkins said they are asking employees, those on a 216 day contract, to come back to work on Monday, which they are continuing with those plans.

“At a large school with all of the systems that have to be put in place, our principals are going to need all hands on deck. We are taking a very cautious approach as it relates to employees that fall in over 65 (years old) and medically fragile.”

Adkins said the district building is a very tight building, so they are working with division leaders to determine how to bring the 255 day contract employees back, possibly on a staggered schedule.

Giovannelli said Bishop Verot High School will have its graduation in their stadium on July 18 and she finds it funny that the Health Department is not shutting down that event.

Board member Debbie Jordan said phones started ringing, emails started coming in when Bishop Verot announced its plans of having an outdoor graduation. She said they were given the green light for all of their high schools to utilize the City of Palms whenever they needed it to host a graduation.

“There are no words to express to the parents and students of how bad you feel. When you see these opportunities come up where you can utilize the stadium, it’s like ‘oh you can put people 10 feet, 20 feet apart,'” Jordan said.

Giovannelli went on to say she understood Hertz Arena canceling the in-person graduation ceremony because she never understood why they would commit to that action.

Board Attorney Kathy Dupuy-Bruno said they could not move forward with the graduation at Hertz Arena because it was too large of a gathering, which becomes a liability issue.

“I have to apologize to the seniors and the community because Commissioner Pendergrass and Mayor Henderson worked diligently together to offer the opportunity to our students and families,” Giovannelli said. “I have to apologize, the superintendent made that decision without talking to the board.”

She said she was hoping that they could revisit graduation and offer an invitation for all high schools to participate in a stadium graduation over a couple of weekends.

Adkins said they are working with different high schools who are offering some type of outdoor setting for students to receive their diploma and have their picture taken with their principal.

Giovannelli said she is passionate about what is good for students and families, and that graduation is really important. She said she is hopeful that the COVID-19 numbers go down, so they can have a graduation in a stadium in August.