Pinellas Schools prepare for in-person classes and online options

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On Tuesday, Florida confirmed 132 deaths due to COVID-19, a one-day record for the state.

The Pinellas County School Board seems to be moving full steam ahead with opening schools for in-person instruction next month, despite the record-setting coronavirus pandemic raging in Florida.

In a virtual workshop Tuesday, School Board members talked about how to minimize infections inside school buildings once students, faculty and staff return. Families also have an option for online instruction.

The third option is what Pinellas Schools superintendent Michael Grego called an interactive hybrid option for students and for teachers.

“There was as recently as last week that the Department of Education provided districts with the 2020-21 (school year), what they’re calling the Optional Innovational Reopening Plan application and we want to go over this today. Because this application is due on July 31.

“Let me be really clear to everyone that’s listening. It is this application, the ability to be approved for this application, that will provide us the opportunity to offer an offline or what’s called a lot of times a hybrid model.

“That is where students can stay remote and still day-to-day instruction with face-to-face instruction. Right now we do not have that ability to do that. This application will provide us that ability not only for our students but also for some of our teachers who may choose and we can pair to work with that.

“Without this we would have by statute a virtual — we have Pinellas Virtual — and then we have the brick-and-mortar.”

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Superintendent Grego said if the county Department of Health determines in the next few weeks that in-person schools would be unsafe, classes will go back to all online.

“The letter or the guiding principles that we wrote in this plan, under the guiding principles, is we’re saying that changes are going to likely happen. This is a very fluid document in that last paragraph.

“This document is based on what we know today. And two, three weeks from now, if things continue to go in a downward trajectory, downward meaning worse, I think we’re going to absolutely going to continue to consult with our Department of Health and the medical doctors for advice. And they may provide us different advice come the end of this month than they would today and likewise.

“Right now I think it behooves us as a board and a school district to plan for any and all. And then continue to monitor these numbers and continue to stay in close communications with the Department of Health, Dr. Carr and to this board.

“Then this way if we have to change directions, as I call sometimes, if we have to pivot, we’re prepared. We’re prepared to go one way or the other. The same way that as we mentioned that if the figures and statistics look really, really good and everyone feels comfortable to go back and all of a sudden an outbreak in September, we’re prepared to go to MyPinellas online. We’re prepared to pivot and to go virtual the same we way we did in the last nine weeks but a whole lot better.”

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Dr. Allison Messina, chair of the infectious disease department at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital said masks work to slow the spread of coronavirus.

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Dr. Messina also said that staff who would be near students who aren’t able to reliably wear a mask should consider plexiglass face shields.

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Masks will be required in most cases at schools. The district has purchased half a million masks.

School Board attorney David Koperski said a face-covering mandate is enforceable.

“If the plan is to require masks then we can do that. And students have to follow. That is correct. And we have had discussions within the district about consequences for that and I believe that the administration, the plan is not going to be disciplinary but if there is continued non-compliance, then the superintendent has always had pre-COVID under your board policies, the ability to place a student in another school. And that other school might be myPCS online. And so the school district and the school board does have that authority to require that. We don’t expressly say that you have to wear shoes, but you have to shoes. If we say that you have to wear a mask for health, safety and welfare, then you need to wear the mask. Now I do see and we worked in the plan it does speak about wearing a mask to the maximum extent possible. Even CDC guidelines say wear a mask in schools if feasible. I’m not sure anybody is necessarily contemplating 100 percent. If you have social distancing it’s my understanding that there might not be a mask required or there may be mask breaks worked in and I believe that’s in the plan.”

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Polk County Public Schools will delay the start of the upcoming school year by at least two weeks. Fox 13 is reporting on Twitter that Polk made the decision due to the rising number of coronavirus cases in the community.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports that the Sarasota School Board wants to delay the start of school from August 10 to August 31, if the Department of Education approves.

In an email from the district, Pasco County Schools say they plan to require that all students, staff, and visitors wear masks or face coverings when on a school campus or other school district property in the fall.

In Hillsborough County, teachers are holding a drive-in rally for a safe school reopening Wednesday. It will be at 8:30 a.m. at Strawberry Crest High School in Dover. It coincides with the Florida Board of Education meeting there.

 

Listen to the 5:30 p.m. WMNF News headlines for 14 July 2020:

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Teachers rallied outside the school board building Tuesday – they want in-person schools open only when it’s safe: