The Sarasota County School Board has no shortage of items to accomplish over the summer, and with ever-changing COVID-19 guidance, the list seems to be growing.
As district leaders try to work through back-to-school plans under state guidelines, board members also are working toward the final stages of selecting a new superintendent.
Following the Citizens Advisory Committee’s final selection of candidates, the school board had to decide how many would advance as semifinalists.
The board unanimously chose to move forward all five candidates, which means Brennan Asplen, Peter Licata, Keith Oswald, Gonzalo La Cava and Marie Izquierdo will now answer two written questions, which they are expected to answer in 250 words or fewer, and three video questions, with a three-minute time limit each.
Board members will then watch and read each candidate’s responses and decide June 23 how many of the semifinalists will move onto the final stage, which will consist of district tours and board interviews.
A new superintendent will be selected at the July 14 board meeting.
Back to school plans
This month, the district posted two preliminary plans for reopening schools.
One would have reopened the schools at capacity with safety measures, and the other would have been a mixture of campus and online learning.
However, Gov. Ron DeSantis last week announced recommendations for reopening schools, urging Florida schools to reopen at capacity in August.
District officials then reworked the plan to get Sarasota students back in schools Aug. 10.
“The new guidance shifted everything,” interim Superintendent Mitsi Corcoran said. “Now we’re looking at what it’s going to take to open our schools with enhanced safety measures in place.”
The district has created a task force of leaders in various school pillars, such as transportation and nutrition, to determine how best to keep students safe.
The district has published its new preliminary plan and aims to send a survey to parents June 26.
From there, the task force will address parent concerns and build them into the back-to-school proposal.
The proposal institutes additional safety measures in the classroom and on the school buses. For example, bell schedules would be adjusted to limit major transitions, and ancillary spaces could be used for classrooms.
Corcoran said teachers might move between classrooms instead of students.
The district also is scaling down its food menu and is considering providing meals in the classroom.
Food and Nutrition Services Director Sara Dan said that if schools choose to continue using the cafeteria, plexiglass walls would likely not be implemented, though each cafeteria worker would wear a face shield.
“We have about 143 serving lines districtwide, so putting up plexiglass is not really a financial option,” Dan said.
Parents are encouraged to drive their students to school when possible or have their child wear masks on the bus, where it will be the most difficult to keep a social distance.
Director of Transportation Jason Harris said each bus will be cleaned at least six times a day, once after each run.
“If a student does come down with the virus, we would take that bus out of service and give it a deep clean before putting it back in service,” Harris said.
Students are encouraged to wear masks daily when possible.
Several board members questioned the possibility of adding plexiglass to the buses or touchless thermometers to the entry of each school, but Corcoran said those options provided complications. For example, if a school bus with plexiglass partitions happened to get in an accident, the plexiglass could shatter and injure a student, and touchless thermometers often can be unreliable.
Further, she said it would take a long time to get the temperature of each student before they headed into school.
“With the thermometers, we can get about 1,000 people through in one hour,” Corcoran said. “So at a school like Riverview, I could start school two-and-a-half hours after the bell.”
Instead, Chief Operations Officer Jody Dumas said the district will send guidelines home to help parents assess their child before dropping them off at the bus stop or school. Children with temperatures, coughs or sneezes should remain at home.
Board members also discussed whether keeping the district’s Aug. 10 start date is beneficial.
Jane Goodwin questioned whether the district could implement a start date after Labor Day, similar to other district plans. However, Board Member Shirley Brown said she would prefer to start on time to allow a cushion in case a school has to close due to an outbreak or a hurricane.