Students wearing face masks, parents performing regular temperature checks and classes maintaining social distance in cafeterias are just some of the ways the school day in Santa Rosa County will look vastly different come August.
The changes are part of a broader educational plan crafted by a team of Santa Rosa County School District staff, parents, teachers and administrators as the start of the 2020-2021 school year rears its head. The Escambia County School District is working on a similar plan, which it expects to finalize next week.
Santa Rosa County's task force presented its recommendations June 18 to the school board, laying out a tentative action plan for how to keep the district's 28,000 pupils and 3,000 employees safe as the pandemic continues. But even since June 18, new information has come out about the coronavirus that has the task force re-thinking some of its strategies.
"The June 18 school board meeting was probably either the day of or the day before the numbers in Florida started spiking," said District 5 school board representative Wei Ueberschaer, who represents the Gulf Breeze area and was on the reopening task force. "So we’re continuing to monitor the situation and seeing whether the plan we have will bring any necessary changes."
While the disease was first thought to primarily infect older populations, infants and young children in Florida have been rapidly catching the coronavirus and increasingly ending up in the hospital since June 1, according to an analysis of data from the Florida Department of Health.
Alarmingly, district staff acknowledge that it's going to be virtually impossible to keep students six feet apart in a school setting and realistically expect every child to wear a mask all of the time, and wear it properly when they do.
"It’s unfeasible to separate desks by six feet," said Daniel Hahn, director of school safety for the Santa Rosa County School District. "This is going to come down to parental involvement and working with us, making sure they do those (temperature) checks before the child comes to school, and having them wear masks whenever possible."
What the reopening plan entails
The main tenets of the plan involve communication with parents to keep an eye on their children and not send kids to school if they have a fever or are otherwise sick. Other facets of the plan include:
Students are highly encouraged to wear face masks at all times, especially on buses.
Faculty and staff are highly encouraged to wear face masks and will be provided multiple cloth face masks by the school district.
Parents are asked to perform temperature checks on their children before sending them to school each day.
Students returning to school after being ill will be temperature screened upon return.
Social distance in cafeterias will be done as much as possible.
Students will be given pre-packaged grab and go meals with disposable supplies, as opposed to self-serving from food trays.
Students will go straight from one classroom to another in between periods, instead of socializing in hallways or recreation spaces.
At recess, students will be kept in small assigned groups and assigned to designated areas of the playground or fields.
Volunteers and visitors will be limited on school premises and pre-screened.
At this time, the plan is for students to return to classrooms full-time starting Aug. 10.
Students who don't feel comfortable returning to in-person school will also have the option to enroll in the district's full-time virtual school through Santa Rosa Online with a minimum of a one-semester commitment.
A third option is for students to home school or enroll in private school.
Whichever option parents and students choose, it's going to require a herculean amount of coordination between the district and parents, Ueberschaer said. And the plan today could change tomorrow depending on new guidelines or information about the coronavirus.
"I think the biggest challenge is that it’s a moving target right now," Uebershire said. "Our public health guidelines and our guidance from the state is always changing considering what the current circumstances are. I guess the most difficult part is trying to pan for a reopening when we don’t know what the circumstances are going to be in August."
Annie Blanks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8632.