The mission of PTA’s everywhere is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. In accordance with PTA position statements as outlined here, ACCPTA’s goal is to ensure the health and safety of all children is highest priority in decisions related to reopening schools. With that in mind, we have the following requests for the Alachua County School District with regards to the draft school reopening plan.
Responses to the statement/questions are included in blue:
- Publish a list of members of the task force/working groups who created the draft plan. Include all stakeholders (parents, guardians, teachers, administrators, students, other school staff, local medical authorities) in decisions regarding the final plan. Ensure buy-in for the plan from all concerned community entities (Alachua County Department of Public Health, local pediatricians, UF Health, County Commissioners, Greater Gainesville Chamber, and other entities that will be impacted directly or indirectly).
The working groups continue to meet as needed, and the district also meets regularly with the ACEA, health department and other stakeholders.
- To facilitate and encourage informed decision-making, provide the full details of the final plan to teachers and families before requesting individual decisions regarding participation. Work with local PTA units to host school-based virtual meetings open to all families and school staff to gather feedback and answer questions about re-opening plans. Work with ACCPTA to host a district-wide virtual information session regarding remote learning options.
Teachers were asked to confirm decisions by July 8. Many local PTA units are hosting virtual town hall meetings with families and school staff to gather feedback and answer questions. ACCPTA is creating pre-recorded interviews with experts to assist families with remote and brick and mortar learning. Please contact your school’s PTA/PTSA or your school directly for more information.
The district is communicating daily with the Department of Health (DOH), as well as working with the Scientific Medical Advisory Council that was recently created (the list of names can be found here). They are revising the original plan with new state mandates and other things such as the mask requirement. The DOH and Medical Advisory Council are developing metrics that will be used to determine when a classroom or school will shut down. The DOH will be part of the special School Board meeting on August 12, when the metrics will be discussed. District attorneys are considering whether all schools could go virtual for the first nine weeks and still maintain state funding. Temperature checks are also being considered. Non-touch digital thermometers were ordered for every teacher.The plan will be final once the district hears from the DOE and completes negotiations with ACEA. The revised plan will be more detailed than the draft plan.
- Work with the Alachua County Department of Public Health to conduct school-level health and safety assessments to inform decisions about how to minimize contact. Conduct regular check-ins throughout the year to ensure safety measures are being followed.
- Provide school administrators with specific guidance regarding how to implement aspects of the plan. Create a uniform system of education about safety precautions (i.e. hand washing) to ensure consistency and equality, especially with vulnerable student populations.
School nurses participated in training with the Dept. of Health. The DOH is hiring 16 health techs, using CARES funding. SBAC is hiring another 20 or more. There will be one on every campus. These techs will assist with contact tracing, isolation rooms and basic medical assistance as needed.
- Ensure equitable distribution of resources needed to implement the plan, including PPE, school meals, technology and WiFi access.
The district is working on technology and WiFi access. Schools are contacting families to determine needs. Last spring, nearly 4,000 computers were provided to families. The district is now collecting those computers so they can reconfigure them for security and give them back to families. They are also working with Cox to help schools get families signed up for the Connect to Compete program (available to families at schools that qualify for free lunch for all students). Parents will sign up for the program, and the district will pay for the Internet. Cox is creating an app to make it easier for families to sign up. The district is also working with AT&T and T-Mobile to provide other options, such as hot spots. The district has ordered PPE, and continues to order more. Items included are gowns, shoe covers, masks, plexiglass. On August 6, they put together packages of PPE for all teachers. ACCPTA is working with the district to create a donation program to assist with funding for digital resources for families in need.
- Consider a delayed school start date to provide more time for teacher preparation and fully informed family decisions.
The school start date was delayed to August 24.
- Create a centralized, easily accessible resource at the district level to provide real-time information regarding current spread level, school-level updates, and other important details to streamline communication to families and school staff. Include navigation about ownership of each area and decision within the plan. Include a timeline for when decisions will be made and when information will be provided. This comprehensive resource will make it easier for parents to find information and avoid multiple requests to teachers and principals.
Other districts have received similar requests, and the district is talking with them about feasibility. The concern is with confidential information, as well as protocol. Protocol for schools to use when communicating with families were created and distributed to principals recently.
- Provide more detailed information and specific examples about how contact tracing will work in case of a diagnosis, who will be impacted (how a contact will be defined), how long they will be quarantined, how this will be communicated to families, and how instruction will continue.
Provide information about how community spread levels will be determined and by whom, and how that will be communicated. Include details about how instruction will continue in the event of a full school closure should spread levels increase.
- Ensure continuity and quality of instruction as much as possible through every step of the plan. Clearly define and communicate the plan in advance, including how advance preparation will take place (teacher training, technology resource distribution, access to instructional materials, WiFi access, etc.).
The revised plan will be more detailed.
Summary of frequently asked questions within the PTA community
Communications and decision-making
What is the composition of the task force/group that put together the draft plan? What process was used to put the plan together? Who will make decisions about the final plan?
How are the community spread levels defined, and by whom? How will information about those levels and associated changes be communicated to families and school staff?
How will general information about the plan and changes be communicated with families? Will this be on a per-school basis, or will there be a more centralized and frequent district-wide communication stream?
The district will send the final plan directly to parents. Some protocols will be universal, such as masks. Others will be site-specific, such as meal delivery. The district will provide principals with guidance and a CDC checklist, as well as templates for communications that will go home in the case of COVID exposure.
What is the schedule to inform parents of the final plan? When will parents be asked for a decision? Will they be able to change their minds?
As soon as the district hears from the FL DOE and completes negotiations with ACEA, the final plan will be communicated. Parents were originally asked for a decision by July 31, but changes can be made if absolutely necessary.
Health and safety
Will the current school ventilation systems be inspected and assessed according to CDC standards? If improvements are needed, how will they be funded and what can we do to ensure that these changes are made in a timely fashion?
The facilities dept. shared information about air filtration during a recent School Board meeting:
- HVAC filters are rated MERV 9 of the ASHRAE* Standard 52.2 or better. This filters out mold, spores, nebulizer sized droplets, dusts and pollens.
- All district filter media is either MERV 9, Dustlok Dual-Ply Media with Spor-Ax antimicrobial, which controls microbial growth or pleated type HVAC filters which are rated at MERV 11 or 13 by engineered design.
- Upgrading to MERV 15 hospital-grade filters in existing mechanical equipment would result in too much air restriction and cause major malfunctions within district HVAC system.
Will masks be mandatory? What are the consequences of not wearing one? Will the consequences be consistent from school to school or teacher to teacher?
The School Board determined that masks will be mandatory at a recent meeting. Non-compliance will be treated as a health and safety issue, not a discipline issue.
What is the protocol if someone in the school is diagnosed with COVID? How will contact tracing be conducted? How is a “contact” defined? Who will have to quarantine, and for how long? How will instruction continue during that time? Will siblings be included in the quarantine, classmates of siblings, fellow bus riders, specials teachers, and others who came in contact with the student?
If the community spread increases and schools are closed, how will that be determined and communicated? How will learning continue during that time? Have teachers been trained to do this? Will laptops be provided to households who need them in advance, so they will be ready if/when this happens?
See separate response from the Dept. of Health regarding how community spread will be determined. Learning will continue through the Digital Academy. All teachers will be trained prior to the beginning of school.
How many children will be in the classroom at a time? Will there be smaller class sizes? How will that be funded?
This will depend on how many families select the brick and mortar option.
What will the health screening look like, and who will be doing it? What processes will be put in place to ensure that sick children are not being sent to school?
See separate response from the Dept. of Health.
How will protocol be enforced among kids (hand washing, masks, etc.)?
This will be determined at the school level.
Does the county have the capacity to do the testing that is needed as part of the plan?
See separate response from the Dept. of Health.
How will spaced seating be accommodated on school buses? Does the district have enough buses to provide proper social distancing?
The district has purchased more buses and will be implementing more routes, but the exact number of children riding will be determined based on usage.
Will there be more custodial staff hired to increase the daily cleaning? How will this be funded?
The district is working with Kelly Services to hire more.
How will schedules work to avoid close contact during lunch?
This is up to each individual school. It will depend on how many students choose the brick and mortar option. Food Services has conducted a walk-through of every school to help determine the site-specific procedures.
Teachers and school staff
Many teachers are concerned about returning to school because of the increased exposure and the likelihood of children not following procedures. Will this exacerbate the existing teacher shortage, leading to lower educational quality for children? How will these vacancies be filled? Will more substitute teachers be needed? How will they be trained?
The district is working with Kelly Services to shire substitutes, but they recognize that it will be more difficult this year.
Which teachers will be participating in digital teaching, and which ones will teach in person? How will these decisions be made?
The district is working with the ACEA to determine this.
What kind of precautions will be made for teachers’ safety? How will instruction be impacted should a teacher fall ill and be forced to quarantine?
If a class is quarantined, the teacher and students who are not sick would use the Digital Academy. One of the goals of the Digital Academy is to provide a smooth transition for cases such as this.
Who should a staff member report to if they feel as though they have been asked to do a responsibility that they aren’t comfortable with or it is outside their job description?
The staff member should contact the Principal.
How will the scope and sequence of teacher evaluations be tweaked to reflect adjustments to teaching that must take place as a result of the plan?
ACCPTA reached out to the district HR department about this.
What additional training is being provided to teachers before the start of the school year and throughout the year as it relates to COVID, safety procedures, mindfulness, etc.?
(Update 8/19) The district is providing all teachers/staff with a trauma informed practices training. This includes an online self paced module AND a faculty discussion/training session. This is required for teachers but open to all staff. In addition, they have a play list of trainings around social emotional learning and trauma training that teachers have access to. They will provide other training throughout the year including information on rating, internalizing and externalizing behaviors to help identify students at risk of mental health concerns who may need intervention. They are also continuing to provide Youth Mental Health First Aid to staff as often as possible.
Quality of instruction
How will children continue to have access to high quality arts and media instruction if those teachers are traveling and do not have enough supplies for every child? How will supplies in these areas be sanitized? How will children sing in music when choral singing has been identified as one of the biggest ways the virus is spread?
Protocols are being created for all schools to use for electives, including chorus and band. These will be included in the revised plan.
Will frequent stops and starts to instruction (based on individual quarantined and possible increased community spread) impact learning?
The Digital Academy is designed to minimize this impact.
What will policies be regarding volunteers on campus? Will those be district-wide or per school? How will this impact the work of PTA?
This is up to the principal, but most are not allowing volunteers at school at this time.
Will additional mental health counselors/guidance staff be provided at each school to assist with helping students cope and address discipline issues?
(Updated 8/19/20): The district currently has school counselors and social workers in all schools as well as the System of Care in schools identified as being high needs. There are also mental health counselors at center schools and two district mental health specialists to help respond to parent requests for counseling, serve Alachua eSchool students, collaborate with agency partners and provide ongoing training.
Visit this web site for information about district-provided counseling services. There is a button for parents to request counseling services for their student. A mental health specialist will then reach out to you to talk more about your needs and decide who best to refer you to. You can also reach out to your school’s counselor directly.
Will schools have staggered start times or scheduling blocks?
This is not planned at this time.
Does the district have the budget to supply schools with enough PPE and cleaning supplies? If not, will PTA’s or other school-based parent groups be asked to purchase these types of items? If so, how will schools without a parent groups have equal access to resources?
The district will be purchasing PPE and cleaning supplies for all schools.
How will families without as much access to resources be assisted in the event of an unexpected quarantine or full school closure (families without technology or internet, ESE kids, families who are not able to adjust work schedules on a moment’s notice?)
The goal is to provide them with the technology they need.
How will the Digital Academy work? Will a hybrid option be available?
The Digital Academy was explained more during a recent School Board meeting, and can be found here: https://fl02219191.schoolwires.net/Page/29815
At this time, a hybrid option is not being considered.
Will there be different plans based on school level?
The overall plan will be the same district-wide, but some decisions will be made at the school level.
How will hallway transitions be managed for middle and high school?
This is up to the individual school.
Will school meals be provided to families in need who select one of the virtual options?
Digital Academy families will be able to pick up meals at school. The USDA governs federal funding for school lunch programs, and as of now they require that students be enrolled in a school (which means e-school students would not receive the lunches). There is a federal bill that would change this that PTA is supporting.
What accommodations will be provided for WiFi access, and by whom? Will access be provided to those who select the Virtual School or Digital Academy options?
See response above.
How will attendance be impacted in the case of a mandatory quarantine based on contact with an infected individual?
If the child is quarantined but not sick and still able to learn, he/she would learn through the Digital Academy and be counted as present. If a child is sick, that would be an excused absence.