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School to start Aug. 31 with masks mandated

By Staff | Jul 23, 2020

Students will now go back to school on Monday, Aug. 31 and students and staff will be required to wear masks while attending brick-and-mortar schools.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins told the School Board of Lee County he believes it would be prudent to extend reopening to Monday, Aug. 31 with hopes to see improvements with metrics and COVID-19 trend data, as well as being as prepared as they possibly can to reopen schools.

The board agreed, voting unanimously for the suggested date.

The recommendation came from the calendar committee, comprised of 24 members, who met on Monday.

The teachers’ first day will take place Tuesday, Aug. 18, and they will have pre-school days until Friday, Aug. 28.

The end of the first quarter, 43 days, is Friday, Oct. 30, the end of the second quarter, 47 days, will take place on Jan. 29 and the end of third quarter, 47 days will take place on April 16. The last day of school, the end of the fourth quarter, 43 days, will take place on June 17, if the calendar stands as approved.

The holiday breaks: Thanksgiving will take place from Nov. 23-27, Winter Break from Dec. 21-Jan. 1 and Spring Break will take place from March 15-19.

“The committee felt that the Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break intact would give our teachers and students an opportunity to recoup,” Adkins said. “In addition to that, they felt that the professional duty days, if they were put at the front end of this particular calendar, would give them more time to get prepared with the school year,” Adkins said.

Chief Human Resource Officer Dr. Angela Pruitt said there was a passionate plea primarily from the school based folks to have a balance between needs of students and staff relative to needing that time to get that break and get away from things, she said.

“There was a lot of discussion around the holidays,” Pruitt said.

Currently 27,681 surveys have been completed concerning what option parents are going to take once schools open — home school, Lee Home Connect, Lee Virtual School or face-to-face. There is still a push for more parents to finish the survey, with a mailed letter arriving at homes by the end of the week at the latest.

“Face-to-face will be the default choice if someone does not make a choice,” Adkins said.

From those submissions 43 percent of parents voted to have face-to-face, followed by Lee Home Connect with 39 percent. Lee Virtual school followed with 17 percent and homeschool with 1 percent of parents choosing the models.

“I do anticipate those numbers will change as we move forward and get more information out to parents,” Adkins said.

With school reopening on Aug. 31, parents have the opportunity to finish the survey by July 30.

There also was reasoning given by Pruitt regarding why the calendar committee chose the 31st instead of the 24th. She said the five extra days could bring the COVID-19 trend of numbers to go down. In addition, the five extra days would give the human resources office time to work through 12,000 employees.

“If we don’t have enough staff in a particular area, that makes all the difference in the world,” she said of the five days. “I’ve very supportive of the 31st. I’m very concerned about being able to address all the needs of all of our employees in an effort to support all of our children. The five days will be helpful.”

With four options for parents to choose among, it makes a complicated puzzle to put together for the district.

“Once we get all the parents’ choices, then what we are going to have to do in human resources is go school-by-school and work with principals, so that they have the appropriate staffing,” Pruitt said.

For example, if 50 percent of a school wants to do face-to-face and the other 50 percent Lee Home Connect, then Pruitt has to match it up with the teachers and make sure she has enough staff to service those families.

Board Member Gwyn Gittens said her concern about starting at the end of August is the widening of the achievement gap.

“We have some students that have been out since March 13 and really didn’t participate largely in distance learning. If we are going to go ahead and do the 31st then we need to do something to help our parents and families with extra resources, so students can get back into the flow,” she said.

Pruitt said that iReady is still open and ready for elementary and middle school families.

Board Member Melisa Giovannelli said she wants to make sure they will be prepared and ready by Aug. 31 because students and staff are the districts most precious assets right now.

“It’s vital that we have given these options for families. I really support the plan the superintendent has put in place and have options that they can do virtual, face-to-face, home school or Lee Home Connect,” she said.

Giovanelli said mental health issues is fair greater than the virus aspect.

“We are in the business to educate children and that has to be the No. 1 priority for everyone. We need to use all of our resources to educate all of these students. I want teachers to be assured that they will not lose their home because of this COVID crisis. It is vital that everyone feels comfortable. I think we can move forward as a district if we all feel rest assured. I want the community to know that we are looking at every possibility to make sure we get back to school. We don’t want to delay it if we don’t have to but do it for the safety of everyone,” she said.

After the calendar was approved, Adkins provided his recommendation regarding wearing masks, which did not receive any discussion from the board.

He said it was time to revisit the discussion of masks because a lot has happened since the Pandemic Task Force made its recommendation of requiring wearing face masks on school buses and in hallways.

“What I am recommending is adopting a mask mandate for schools,” he said adding that it is in the best interest of students and staff.

The recommendation helps with the districts three W’s, washing hands, wearing masks and washing spaces.

The requirement also will be made for staff at the school level and district staff personnel.

Adkins recognized that there are certain children that may have reasons that they cannot wear masks and they will be working with parents on those issues.

He went on to say that they have always had a great working relationship with Lee Health and other care providers in the area. They are helping the district with reopening and also when the mask mandate and other mandates can be relaxed.

Adkins said when looking at the dollar amount for personal protective equipment, such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizers and face shields for teachers it could cost in an excess of $10 million.