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East County Wednesday, Jun. 17, 2020 3 weeks ago

School District of Manatee County seeks reopening input

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Public can comment during a June 25 school board workshop.
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

The School District of Manatee County said  its June 25 school board workshop at the School Support Center, 215 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton, most likely will be packed because the public can offer input on the reopening of schools Aug. 10.

Now the issue is how to accommodate those who want to attend or speak and what time of day to have the meeting. 

The workshop tentatively is scheduled for 2 p.m., but school district officials are considering an 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. time slot to give people a chance to attend during a lunch break.

With social distancing a concern, the district also will consider opening each of its seven high school auditoriums to the public. Not only would attendees be able to view the proceedings, but they would also be allowed to comment remotely.

At the East County Observer deadline June 16, the district hadn’t made a decision on the time of the meeting or where to host those who want to attend the workshop, but a decision was expected by the end of the week.

As far as reopening, the district is considering three options for the fall: opening fully, continuing e-learning or a combination of the two where students will split time between e-learning and being on campus.

The district has accepted public input about reopening since June 9 through a survey on its website. On June 11, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a recommendation for reopening schools at full capacity for a traditional start of the school year.

It has been left to each school district whether to follow the recommendation.

The district has received more than 13,000 responses to the survey on reopening. Cynthia Saunders, superintendent of the School District of Manatee County, said about 7,800 (60%) of the responses wanted schools to reopen like normal while 1,800 responders wanted to continue e-learning full time.

Patricia Juliano, a parent of rising seventh and eighth graders at Braden River Middle School, prefers the school reopen fully.

“I do not want to go back to e-learning,” Juliano said. “They just don’t have that interaction, and they can’t ask questions.”

Juliano suggested having teachers rotate classrooms, so students don’t have to be going through the halls to move from class to class. Classes that are difficult to transition, such as science and music, can be scheduled every other period to allow for time to clean the rooms.

Lainna McElhiney, a parent of a rising first grader at Tara Elementary School, said opening school on time at full capacity is the only realistic option because parents need to work, and not everyone has access to child care.

“We all have to worry about being a teacher, a parent and trying to remain financially stable,” McElhiney said. “It’s too much. Parents of middle and high school students might have a little more flexibility due to the age and staying home alone during the day, but I am a mother of two elementary-age students. I don’t have that as an option.”

Saunders said she has participated in several community workshops and has talked to many people who preferred the blended model of learning in which students would spend part of the week in the classroom and the other time at home with e-learning.

“We have not set any parameter or stated how we’re going to look in the fall because we do not know,” Saunders said. “We’re trying to get input from a variety of individuals and all the stakeholders, so the board as a whole can make a decision.”

The district hopes to make a decision regarding the reopening of schools by early July. The opening day of the school year is Aug. 10.

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