Peggy Turner, a kindergarten teacher at Robert E. Willis Elementary School, is ready to take her students on an adventure.
Students will see paper mache balloons hanging from the ceiling and an “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” banner on the wall when the School District of Manatee County opens its 2020-21 school year Aug. 17.
When students return, they’ll see a classroom unlike parents have seen before. Each table will have three students with the center student having dividers on each side as protection. Every space is being utilized to ensure social distancing. Rooms will be stocked with hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies. Everyone will be wearing a mask.
The classroom might look different, but the desire and excitement teachers have for being back in the classroom remains.
“I am looking forward to seeing their smiling faces,” Turner said. “I look forward to seeing their excitement as they are learning.”
Meanwhile, Maureen Hudson, a career and technical education teacher at Braden River High School, sees her e-learning classes as an opportunity to improve upon how e-learning went at the end of last school year.
“I’m creating my classroom online and trying to do lots of interactive things, whereas in spring it was, ‘Let’s get assignments up there, and let’s figure out how we can make this happen,’” she said. “I’m excited about that challenge and always taking it to the next level. As grim as things may seem, it could be that education changes for the better because we’re all learning these new tools and systems.”
The School Board of Manatee County voted to push the start of school back by a week to provide more time for teachers to prepare for the unprecedented start to the new year. Many teachers said the extra week allowed more time for training, preparing to move to e-learning if schools are closed and setting up their physical and virtual classrooms.
Faith Bench, a math teacher at Braden River Middle School, said expectations need to be set early for students, such as always wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing. Bench has individual whiteboard desks that are spaced 6 feet apart in her classroom. She had to remove desks to allow for distancing.
Here is what students will find when school reopens.
Full-time, in-person classes
Students will return to school five days per week.
Students will be on campus two consecutive days of instruction and three days at home with e-learning. Half the class will be in person while the other half will be at home.
Teachers will be provided district-developed curriculum content to allow for a seamless transition to e-learning.
Students must complete e-learning assignments to be prepared for the next day in school.
Students remain home while learning from a teacher at their enrolled school.
Live teacher instruction will be available for daily lessons.
Teachers will be provided district-developed curriculum content.
Assignments will be submitted according to instructional expectations.
Students can participate in all school activities and events.
Many schools have put up plexiglass to separate students while they eat while still providing an environment for students to talk to one another.
Other schools will have students eating outside the building or in their classrooms. Some schools will have new carts and kiosks to distribute food.
Full-time and hybrid students will go through the lunch line like normal, but all food will be provided in closed containers.
Hybrid students will have the opportunity to take meals home with them for the days they’re doing e-learning.
E-learning students will be able to go to their school at select times to pick up breakfast and lunch to last them the week.
Unlike during the summer when any student 18 years old or younger could get a free meal from the district, students will need to pay for their lunches unless they qualify for free or reduced meals. Meals will be charged to students’ accounts.
Breakfast remains free for all students.
As the school year starts, 14,083 students have registered to ride the bus.
Due to the number of students the district needs to transport, social distancing isn’t possible on buses. Face masks will be required for all students to wear while riding the bus.
Students riding buses will randomly have their temperatures checked as they exit the bus at their school. If a student has a temperature, they will be put in an isolation area in the school until parents can pick them up.
Students should arrive at their assigned bus stops 10 minutes before the scheduled arrival time. Parents can find pick-up times on the transportation tab of the MySDMCFocus App. Bus assignments will also be available to families who call the district’s transportation department at 782-1287.
If a family still needs to register, go online to www.ManateeSchools.net/RegisterToRide.
Todd Henson, director of maintenance, operations and central distribution for the district, said every day the schools will undergo a “robust cleaning.”
Cleaning products are being purchased for teachers to keep in their classrooms while custodial staff will be performing traditional cleaning and sanitizing major touch surfaces and areas frequented the most throughout the day.
“We’re looking at this as a team effort with our schools and custodial staff,” Henson said.
Some of the products in classrooms will include hand soap, gallon bottles of hand sanitizer and wipes.
One of the products the district will be using for cleaning is Avstat-D, which is a virucidal product. Staff will spray the surface and let the product sit for two minutes before wiping.
Although the district did not hire more custodial staff, Henson said the district has staff at the district’s Matzke Support Center that can be deployed to schools if the custodial staff needs assistance.
“The biggest part of this is the fact that there’s no replacement for washing hands, covering your face, monitoring your personal health and making sure you’re not around sick people,” Henson said.
If schools have extracurriculars available, students must follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
All field trips have been suspended until further notice.
The high school sports season is scheduled to begin Aug. 24, but the Florida High School Athletics Association is meeting Aug. 14 to discuss the fall season.