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Pandemic Task force subcommittees to meet, prepare recommendations
June 24, 2020

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The K-12 Pandemic Task Force was given more to think about during its Wednesday meeting, which will be discussed in the handful of subcommittees before next week's task force meeting.

The subcommittee will meet at least once before its next meeting at 4 p.m. Wednesday, June 24. They are tasked with the responsibility of presenting a recommendation at next week's task force meeting. The subcommittees are broken down into instructional models, transportation, health/safety, workforce and communication.

The recommendations then will be given to the district's team to formulate a recommendation to go before the School Board in early July.

Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins said the task force's input is going to be really critical in their decision-making as they look forward to the fall for reopening schools. He said they are hoping to make some very key decisions relative to how they are going to reopen schools and continue education for kids.

"We have to provide that high-quality learning environment under the safest circumstances that we possibly can," Adkins said. "This is a dynamic situation as you all know. Since we last met, we had the governor's plan, which was released and we have also seen an uptick in our COVID cases here locally. These are two factors that have changed in just a short period of time between our meetings. Those are good examples of how we have to be very agile in our decision-making because we have a lot of decisions that we need to make prior to the start of school in the fall."

Gov. Ron DeSantis's plan stresses local control and the document issued by the Florida Department of Education offers good guidance.

"It is a local decision," Adkins said, adding he believes the commissioner and governor think they should make with consultation of health professionals. "Our local Department of Health, Lee Health and others and I am thankful they are a part of this task force."

He said Florida Department of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and the governor stressed that closing the achievement gap is absolutely critical.

"In this time of distance learning that achievement gap concern that we have has actually been exacerbated, so closing the achievement gap is something we really want to focus on as we look towards the fall, and even our plans into the summer," Adkins said.

In addition, a coping and resilience plan is being created as is an expanded learning opportunity to help reduce the academic gaps to make sure the students are caught up and not falling behind.

Another key is opening schools under a healthy learning environment.

The meeting then went into the task-force discussing the drafted reopening models that were presented at the last meeting.

Some of the questions from the task force regarded how an alternating school schedule for students would coincide with a teacher, who also has children, as well as manageability issues for teachers and how to address cabin fever for elementary students who would remain in the same classroom for the length of the school day.

Other comments shared that parents want to go back to normal, traditional school, without wearing masks. On the flip side if masks are required, what kind of disciplinary measures would take place if not worn. Other concerns brought forth were ethical concerns of having children on camera and how do teachers provide fair treatment to all students on a hybrid model.

Teachers Association of Lee County President Kevin Daly also spoke to the issue of having enough bandwidth to put 6,000 teachers on Zoom or any other platform every day, all day.

"The students most in need of services, do we have the ability to help them with Zoom and IT with bandwidth," he asked.

"We are doing high school football and the coaches that are volunteers had to sign a waiver. A waiver of their rights to take any action against anybody if they get sick during football practice. With all due respect to the community, I don't think my 6,000 teachers should have to sign a waiver about their health and their lives to do their job," Daly said. "This group hasn't met in person because we are concerned about getting together because of COVID. With all due respect to parents, I'm a parent too, I have a daughter at South, and I don't want her going back with 2,000 students a day, I don't want to have her teachers risk their lives to teach my daughter."

District Advisory Committee President Scott Hertz said the overwhelming majority of people want to see students back at school.

The Zoom meeting then broke into a presentation around the "day of the life," so the task force could make those recommendations at next week's meeting.

Chief Operations Officer Dr. Kenneth Savage began the discussion of the day in the life of getting to school.

"The day for us begins before the student even arrives on campus," he said, adding what does the parent's role involve. "Is a parent taking the child's temperature before leaving the house? This is where the options will be expanded upon in the subcommittee."

What will the child see once they are on the bus -- an empty bus due to social distancing, or a bus full of students? Savage said another key decision is are they going to strongly recommend wearing a mask, or require them? Would those masks be available for students who do not have them?

The discussion also touched upon when the screening process should start, in terms of taking the child's temperature and if the temperature is elevated safely quarantining them until a parent arrives. If a student has a fever, how do they get them to the isolation room?

"Do we do a temperature check, or verbal health screening?" Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jeff Spiro asked. "If masks are required, what will be the protocol to provide a mask for him or her? How do we make sure they are properly wearing them before entering the building?"

The subcommittee will also have to discuss what breakfast will look like for the students -- a grab and go meal, or one that is provided, with social distancing, in the cafeteria.

Traffic in hallways, staggered entrances into the building with buses and parent drop off and pick up was another subject for the subcommittee to discuss.

Spiro said they will need to have social distancing markings on the floor in the hallway and ensuring social distancing is taking place in bathrooms. The district is still determining directional signs in the hallways and where hand sanitizer will be located in the common areas.

Spiro said during the course of the day a school is a very busy place, therefore, discussions are being had regarding if visitors should be allowed on the campus, or if they should be limited. Meetings are another topic of discussion, as far as Individual Education Plans -- should they be done virtually, face-to face with social distancing?

As far as the classroom discussions, should K-fifth students stay in one classroom, or be mixed and grouped with other classes. The same goes for middle and high school. Spiro said, for example, should ninth grade classes be in one part of the building, and 10th in another?

He also touched upon what process should be taken regarding materials. Should students share, or not share materials, as well as where should backpacks be kept?

Spiro said they are also looking into what before and after school care and activities will look like, if they do indeed resume.

Savage said as far as cleaning and sanitizing the schools, there is an increased effort implemented. One way that may be done is changing the hours of custodians and having more properly trained custodians on staff during the day. Currently, most of the custodians are cleaning and doing trash pick up at night.

The meeting also addressed monitoring CO2, which helps the district get an idea of how much fresh air is going into the building. So far, 41 percent of the district has been tested and the CO2 monitoring looks good. In addition, the district is changing filters once a month, instead of once a quarter and looking into UV lighting in ductwork.

Chief Human Resource Officer Angela Pruitt also spoke during the Wednesday meeting to share information about the workforce plan. She said the goal is to continue to work with both of the unions TALC and SPALC, as well as its members and other stakeholders in the community.

"We definitely are working on a phased approach," she said. "We are preparing the workforce for the employees when they return and do their job functions (and) implementing safety protocols. It's going to be very important that we are addressing the needs of our employees. It is going to be important that we provide instruction and coaching to administrators, as we make final decisions."

Pruitt said they are not loosing sight of mental health and wellness concerns.

"They say we are all in the same storm, but all on different ships. We are making sure we are not losing sight of things as a result of that," she said.

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