As Sarasota County School Board members again discussed how to reopen schools, local health officials advised the board to move forward with Aug. 31 as the first day of classes.
The school board plans to open with options for in-person and remote learning. Some teachers and parents, however, are pushing for an all-remote opening.
Board members questioned whether there were firm state guidelines, such as positive test results or a number of pediatric positive tests, that could provide further guidance.
Michael Drennon, the program manager for disease intervention services for Department of Health Sarasota, said the local agency has not received any state guidance, and setting a data threshold is not something DOH in Sarasota is prepared to do.
“What criteria would you use to say it’s irresponsible to open?” board member Eric Robinson said. “We’re trying to make decisions, and we’re looking upon you as a subject-matter expert. What data or what numbers or what criteria would you use to say it’s irresponsible to open brick-and-mortar?”
Drennon said the guidance he receives from DOH central offices helps direct local response. He would look at the percentage of population that has tested positive, the burden of the disease on the community and the burden of the disease among adolescents.
He said he expects clearer guidance from the state within a week, but he advised board members to continue with the Aug. 31 plan for now.
Board Chair Caroline Zucker said she wants clearer guidelines to help guide the board in the future should the topic be revisited.
Board member Jane Goodwin said it is a topic she hopes to revisit when the Superintendent Brennan Asplen starts Aug. 10.
“I think what we need to do is just continue to, I guess, kick the can down the road a little bit,” Goodwin said. “I’ll feel better when Dr. Asplen is here next week, with his leadership, but I think at some point in time we need to take a look at some numbers and some metrics and say, ‘OK, if this is existing, we go remote.’”
Drennon did say that if any student is showing symptoms or has been exposed to someone who has tested positive, they should be tested before coming to school.
Also among Tuesday’s discussion was the adoption of a 90-day face covering policy that will apply to anyone on a school campus or in a district vehicle. Those who do not wear them could be sent home.
The policy requires face coverings — cloth face masks or plastic face shields — for the first 90 days of school. Those who do not wear them could be sent home or asked to participate in remote learning.
Face coverings will not be required outdoors with enough room to social distance or when alone indoors. Students also will not have to wear them while eating, playing an instrument or exercising.
Staff members will add breaks in safe settings for younger students to remove their masks for a few minutes throughout the day.
Those who have a doctor’s note stating they have a physical or psychological condition that prevents them from wearing a face covering will be excused from the policy.