ACCPTA met with the district to gather additional information about COVID safety in our schools to help answer some common questions and keep the community informed. Below is what we learned:
The district makes decisions related to COVID safety jointly with Paul Myers with the Alachua County Health Department in consultation with medical advisors, including Dr. Adrienne Mott-Young and Dr. Kathleen Ryan with UF Health Pediatrics. Others involved in the decisions are Dr. Amit Rawal, NFRMC Emergency Medicine, Dr. Mike Lauzardo from the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute and leadership from our local hospitals.
The Pandemic Response Team created last Fall will be re-engaging soon, with the addition of more community members and medical professionals. The SHAC (School Health Advisory Committee) is a long-standing advisory group that advises the district/Health Department on school health overall and provides additional direction on a case-by-case basis.
𝐃𝐞𝐜𝐢𝐬𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐜𝐞𝐬𝐬 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐜𝐥𝐨𝐬𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐜𝐥𝐚𝐬𝐬𝐫𝐨𝐨𝐦𝐬
The Florida Department of Health provides the protocol for isolation and quarantine procedures. The district is reviewing last year’s metrics for closing an individual classroom or school due to spread in light of the new DOH emergency rules and the impact of the Delta variant.The decision to close a school can be made by the Superintendent or Paul Myers, Administrator, Florida Department of Health in Alachua County. At this time, a threshold by which this take place has not been established.
Board Policy 8420 – Emergency Closing and Emergency Management
Board Policy 8220 – School Day
The district conducts free drive-thru testing for students and staff in quarantine. Testing is offered on Day 5 of quarantine, and students can return if their results are negative and they do not have any symptoms. On Monday August 16, testing will be conducted for students who were isolated the first day of school. The overall availability of tests county-wide is currently strained, but the school district has priority access through the Health Department. For questions about testing, you can call 352-420-8993.
𝐀𝐛𝐬𝐞𝐧𝐭𝐞𝐞 𝐩𝐨𝐥𝐢𝐜𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐝𝐮𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐢𝐬𝐨𝐥𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧
Per the state, if a student is asked to quarantine due to exposure, the student will not be considered absent if they are engaged in work for school. If a student is isolating at home because they have symptoms or test positive, it will be counted as an excused absence. If a parent chooses to keep their child home due to possible exposure but they were not directed to do so, the student will be counted absent.
The expectation is that every teacher is using Canvas to make sure students receive assignments if they are in quarantine. Schools have computers and hotspots available for checkout if needed. There is no live instruction being provided at this time, but the district is developing plans for a possible after-school option.
The district will be adding information to the dashboard about overall vaccination rates for school staff and students by school level (elementary, middle and high).
The Florida Board of Education will be sharing the state’s plan additional ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) funds during their meeting this Wednesday. The district will also be publicizing a ESSER Dashboard to show how funds have been/will be spent.We appreciate the ongoing opportunity to meet with the district and advocate for the health and safety of all children.
ACCPTA reached out to the district with some questions and suggestions regarding the COVID response plan. The information we received is included below. We appreciate the quick response, and the district’s continued efforts to prioritize the health and safety of school staff and children.
Florida Dept. of Health Alignment
The district COVID procedures were updated recently to align with the emergency rules released Friday by the Florida Department of Health and in consultation with the Alachua County Health Department. This includes quarantine guidelines that now apply equally to home and school exposures. The procedures were also updated to be the same for all students and staff, regardless of whether they are wearing a mask. Vaccination quarantine protocols align with FDOH and CDC guidance.
This year vs. last year’s plan
Some of the procedures that were in last year’s COVID plan are no longer applicable, such as lunchroom food handling, as the CDC no longer recommendations significant precautions in that area. The data shows that the new delta variant is more transmissible through aerosols, not surfaces.
Classroom or school closures
The district is in active discussions with the Alachua County Health Department about defining metrics by which classrooms or schools might close due to spread, as well as how learning will continue should that need arise. For now, the expectation is that all course materials should be available on Canvas for continuity of instruction. The logistics of providing live remote instruction during a personnel shortage is a challenge, but the district is working with the Alachua County Education Association to find a solution.
Outdoor lunch seating
The Alachua County Government is helping to provide and deliver tables and benches so that outdoor seating capacity can be increased at all schools.
Mask mandate enforcement
Principals are familiar with enforcing the mask mandates, having done so during the past year. Additional guidance was provided recently regarding the opt out form or the Hope Scholarship.
The district works alongside the Lead Epidemiologist at the Alachua County Health Department in the development of protocols and procedures.
IMPORTANT: The Alachua County Department of Health (FL DOH) has a new hotline for questions about symptoms, isolation, or quarantine: Contact 352-225-4181 during regular business hours or at 352-334-7900 after hours.
ACCPTA Statement on District COVID Policies
We appreciate the tremendous work the school district has done to minimize COVID transmission in our schools over the past eight months and through the end of the 2020/2021 school year. We know this has been a herculean effort, and we appreciate the significant time, expertise and resources that have been allocated toward this cause. We also recognize and appreciate the creation of the COVID dashboard and the Epidemic Task Force, both of which allow the community to remain up-to-date regarding protocols and decisions.
In accordance with PTA position statements as outlined below, ACCPTA’s goal is to ensure the health and safety of all children is highest priority in decisions related to COVID safety in schools as we transition into summer and fall 2021. With that in mind, we have the following requests for the Alachua County School District and School Board related to school health and safety protocols:
- Ensure that all school health and safety plans strictly follow the most up-to-date Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, including but not limited to reasonable social distancing, mask recommendations, and screening and testing protocols.
- Continue to facilitate and encourage informed and comprehensive decision-making by ensuring that all stakeholders in the school community (teachers and other school staff, families, and students) have the opportunity to provide feedback before major changes are made to COVID health and safety protocols.
- Make publicly available the data, expertise, and informational resources that are used to facilitate major policy changes.
ACCPTA and our local PTA units remain ready and eager to work with our school district and individual schools to help facilitate communication, resource distribution and family engagement regarding policies that impact children.
PTA positions related to health and safety in schools:
National PTA believes that a comprehensive health program, encompassing health education, health services and healthy school environment includes the following components:
- Policy and goals established by local school boards in partnership with parents, students, educators, community health care providers and others, and includes the development, implementation and evaluation of a comprehensive school health program.
- Health Services that appropriately reflect the educational and community commitment to address identified health problems that limit students’ abilities to learn.
- Healthy school environments that demonstrate care for physical facilities, stress the importance of positive mental health and emotional climates within the school setting, and ensure the physical safety of the students and staff.
- School-site health promotion programs for faculty and staff that include wellness components, which will increase job satisfaction, morale and a healthy quality of life.
- Integrated school and community health promotion efforts that acknowledge the shared responsibility for student health with the home, public and private health care systems, law enforcement and justice systems, government, environmental agencies, business, religious organizations, civic groups and the media.
National PTA believes that comprehensive school health programs are an essential link in the health education/health care chain. In order to fulfill the responsibility of offering educational opportunities to all children, we need to recognize and deal with their health needs as they impact our schools and communities.
Therefore, parents, schools, and communities are encouraged to work together in partnership to provide effective, comprehensive health programs and policies.
A founding principle of National PTA’s mission is to promote the safety and well-being of all children and youth. School safety is a critical priority for all parents, educators, students, and community members that cannot be taken for granted. Students and educators have a right to attend schools that are safe and conducive to learning and achievement, yet schools often experience critical incidents such as suicide, natural disasters, or a mass casualty event that have a devastating impact on students, parents, educators, and the community.
- Involve students, parents and families in the development, implementation and evaluation of all school safety plans, including emergency preparedness, crisis response, and threat assessment protocols, school discipline policies and procedures, and student health and wellness support services.
- Conduct regular and timely communication with families about safety policies and procedures including school evacuation plans and reunification protocols.
- School districts and schools must communicate clearly and regularly to all families regarding school safety matters in languages that are accessible to them. This includes two-way, meaningful communication on the types of safety drills conducted, what students and parents can expect for drills and in the event of an actual emergency, what physical and psychological safety measures are in place, and the role and responsibilities of any type of security personnel on school premises, if applicable.
- Establish ongoing opportunities for students and parents to provide input on the school environment and climate.
School climate and student support services
- Promote a positive school climate that encourages nurturing relationships, and mutual trust and respect among students, staff and families.
- Distribute information on and connect students and families to appropriate integrated health and wellness services within the school and community.
National PTA understands that the reopening of our nation’s preK-12 schools during the COVID- 19 pandemic is vital to ensure the continuity of education, however it should not outweigh the safety and the mental and physical health of our students, educators, school employees and families. It is our association’s position that plans for reopening shall incorporate the best available science and the expertise of infectious disease doctors and health practitioners. Plans should also strictly follow the most up-to-date Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, including but not limited to reasonable social distancing, rigorous sanitizing processes and viral screening and testing protocols. National PTA believes that states and school districts must plan and align logistics, educational strategies and public health approaches into one coherent response. We recognize that there will not be a one-size fits all process for the reopening of schools.
Inclusive stakeholder engagement is essential for effective decision-making and implementation. Any decision to reopen schools must involve parents, families, students, educators, school employees, public health experts and community members in the planning, implementation and monitoring of the 2020-2021 school year. The presence of the parent and student voice and attention to unique family situations is critical to the successful reopening of schools. Effective stakeholder engagement must be inclusive, transparent, provide multiple opportunities for input and include meaningful, clear and concise communication. All information and protocols should be disseminated to parents, families, students, and communities, using current best practices for family and student engagement. Furthermore, all communications must be accessible to parents with disabilities and available in other languages.
Schools must be prepared to address the transition to back to school, the trauma of a pandemic and the many instructional issues, including the effects of learning loss and the digital divide.
Students will likely return to schools with serious gaps in their learning and retention and unique social-emotional needs. Schools must be prepared to identify indicators, such as symptoms of trauma, learning loss and/or retention and have the requisite funding and community partnerships to effectively support the student and their family as reopening occurs. School districts must ensure multiple modes of instruction and scheduling plans are developed in order to remediate and support students, wherever they are on the continuum. Close adherence to local and state academic standards is imperative as we begin the long, arduous and as yet unknown process of reopening our nation’s preK-12 schools.
National PTA strongly supports a robust federal investment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which in include investments in public health, public schools, universities, hospitals, and local and state governments. National PTA urges the federal and state governments to provide the funding necessary to ensure that when our schools reopen, they have the resources needed to do so as safely and successfully as possible. Many of our nation’s school districts are already working without the resources needed to provide an equitable education and critical supports to all students. The added strain of recovery from a worldwide pandemic will wreak havoc on all localities and will require significant, immediate and continuing support from federal and state funding. While our public schools have been woefully under-resourced, this next phase of “returning to school” is an opportunity to visualize what public education looks like in a post-pandemic era, to ensure every child can reach their fullest potential regardless of zip code.