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Sarasota Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020 3 months ago

Sarasota schools prepare for students' return

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From social distancing to masks and desk barriers, here's what your child can expect as they return to campus:
by: Brynn Mechem Staff Writer

When Sarasota County School students return to school Monday, it will be unlike any first day they’ve ever experienced.

Parents won’t be able to walk their children to their classrooms. Desks will be spaced out or have plastic barriers. Rooms will be stocked with sanitizer and cleaning supplies, and everyone will wear a mask.

Although these factors have caused contention around the decision to return to brick-and-mortar schooling, a majority of Sarasota’s public school students elected to return to the classroom.

Approximately 25,000, or 70% of public school students, will return in-person, while 10,160, or 28%, will partake in the remote learning option. One percent of students, or 440, will participate in full-time Florida virtual schooling, while 479, or 1%, will home school.

Laura Kingsley, chief academic officer and assistant superintendent, said no matter what choice parents and students made, the district will continue to deliver a quality education.

“Our district staff has worked without ceasing for six months to get the very best to you,” Kingsley said. “We promise to continue to work through every challenge and problem-solve to make this extraordinary time in our history as manageable as possible.”

Here’s what students can expect come Monday:

Classrooms and instruction: 

Desks have been separated as much as possible, and see-through barriers have been added to many of them to allow teachers to safely collaborate with students.

Remote learners may be part of a class filled completely with other remote learners and will log on and follow their online teacher. Others will be part of concurrent learning, where they will engage with in-school classrooms.

Classrooms are equipped with cameras and microphones that allow teachers to direct remote learners to views of themselves teaching or an active panel, which will display what in-class students see on a SMART Board.

Parents of remote learners are asked to ensure a comfortable learning environment for their child that is interruption-free. If they notice their child is not responding to remote learning, Kingsley said parents should consider sending their child back to campus.

Signs are posted throughout the classroom to help students follow social distancing rules. Photo courtesy of Sarasota County Schools

“Flexibility is the key for so much of what we’re about to go through, and if teachers and parents find their child is unsuccessful in a remote learning environment, we absolutely want to transition back to face-to-face learning,” she said.

The district also will be able to quickly transition back to remote learning options, should the need arise.

Personal protective equipment and masks: 

The Sarasota County School board passed a policy requiring all people on district campuses to wear a face mask. They must fit snugly over a person’s mouth and nose and be made of nonporous material.

“A mask may be the difference between exclusion and being able to continue with your daily routine,” Health Services Supervisor Suzie Dubose said. “If you are wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing, then you are at lower risk of transmission than a person who is not wearing a face covering.”

In addition to face coverings, face shields and gloves are available to staff. Hand sanitizer and disinfectant is provided for each space, though hand washing is the primary way students and staff should keep clean.

Each campus has been given a single-point of entry, and necessary visitors will be allowed by appointment only — and only when wearing a mask.

Transportation: 

Signs are posted throughout the hallways to help control the flow of traffic. Photo courtesy of Sarasota County Schools

Just like in schools, students who take the bus will be required to wear a face mask. If a student arrives without one, the bus operator will have a small supply.

Director of Transportation Jason Harris said the buses will be loaded from back to front and unloaded from front to back to ensure students don’t cross one another. Windows and roof hatches will remain open throughout routes to ensure air circulation.

Hand sanitizer will be located at the front of the bus. All drivers will clean high-touch areas after each run, and a deeper cleaning will be performed daily.

“I want to ensure all the children that we transport are safe, so we will do everything in our power to keep them safe to and from school,” Harris said.

Although there will be extra precautions on buses, parents are asked to drive their children to school when possible. Upon arrival, parents should stay in their vehicles and make sure  children have their mask on.

Food and Nutrition:

On-campus students who will eat school meals will enter the cafeteria as normal, but they will be asked to wear their face masks and use hand sanitizer upon entering the line. Throughout the line, floor stickers will show students where to stand to remain 6 feet apart.

They will then choose their own entree, which will be wrapped in plastic to avoid contamination. They will check out by scanning a card and giving their first and last name to the cashier. Those who forget their card will enter their PIN and reapply hand sanitizer.

Throughout service, lunch attendants will sanitize railings, tables and tray lines.

Students who chose the remote learning option will still be able to receive school lunches. Parents will order the meals each Thursday and pick them up from their child’s school on Mondays or Tuesdays. The child does not have to be present.

Stickers are placed in each lunch line to help students maintain six feet of distance. Photo courtesy of Sarasota County Schools

A week’s worth of food will be provided — five breakfasts and five lunches — and will be charged to the student’s account based on their meal allocation.

“We know how important nutrition is in the overall learning and success of our students, so we want to do our part to support students and families as they come back on campus,” said Sara Dan, the director of food and nutrition services.  

Although nutrient-rich food will be served, the district had to streamline some of its choices due to the pandemic.

Contact tracing: 

Parents are asked to check their child for symptoms daily, and those children showing symptoms should stay home.

Should a child show symptoms on campus, they will be sent to the school’s clinic and will be isolated until a parent arrives.

Upon a report of symptoms, school leaders will fill out an online form that feeds into a database. District employees will then respond to the report and consult with members of the Department of Health in Sarasota.

DOH staff will determine if anyone needs to be excluded from school and, if so, for how long. 

Chief Operating Officer Jody Dumas said staff will work with DOH to determine whether a classroom, school building or entire school needs to be closed.

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