Now seeking approval from the state, the Sarasota County School Board plans to push back the start of the school year to Aug. 31 to allow more time to prepare for COVID-19.
During a workshop Tuesday, board members said moving the start date from Aug. 10 to Aug. 31 will allow more planning time for administrators to roll out new policies and install additional safety features in schools.
Although there are many reasons to delay school opening, Board Chair Caroline Zucker said the main reason is student safety. Board members said the additional time would keep students out of schools while COVID-19 cases in Sarasota continue to rise.
“The bottom line is: Do you want to save lives, or do you want to open schools?” Zucker said. “Do you think opening later would save lives? I do.”
The decision to push back the school start date has to be approved by the Florida Department of Education along with the rest of the district's reopening plan. The Department of Education on July 6 issued a directive that all districts need to open brick-and-mortar schools five days a week in August.
The district's plan would start school on the last possible day allowed, though Assistant Superintendent and Chief Academic Advisor Laura Kingsley said she’s seen similar plans receive state approval.
Board members would ask teachers to return to work on Aug. 17 — two weeks ahead of the students — to receive additional COVID-19 training. Teachers are typically on a 196-day contract, district attorney Art Hardy said, which allows for one week of training before school begins.
Therefore, the district will require teachers to return Aug. 24 but offer five extra duty days to all teachers so they could return Aug. 17 for the additional training. Staff who normally begin work the first day of school would return Aug. 24.
Upon returning, the board will require all students and staff to wear face coverings while on school buses and school campuses. Those with special educational or health needs can receive a waiver excusing them from the coverings. The policy would not provide exemptions for those with personal objections to the coverings.
"We don't want teachers to have to make the decision," board member Jane Goodwin said. "They don't want to make the decision. Now is the time for strong leadership."