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Learning Curve: A look at St. Johns County's back to school plans

Here's a breakdown of the safety measures in place and the answers to FAQ's about protocol if there is a positive coronavirus case.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. — On Tuesday, the St. Johns County School board votes on whether or not to approve their new school calendar.

They're proposing pushing back the start of school to August 31 and the school year may end on June 10. The meeting starts at 4 p.m. and is followed by a budget meeting at 5:30 p.m. Get the details to watch them here.

St. Johns County is offering virtual school, distance learning, brick-and-mortar school, and homeschooling. Seven in 10 kids will be going back to their buildings, which means they'll have more than 33,000 students in buildings. District leaders are expecting to have around 1100 students enrolled in virtual school. 

Buses will run at normal capacity but masks will be required. Masks are not required in classrooms if students can social distance themselves there. They are required until temperature checks are done at the start of school and during class changes and dismissal. Also during those times, there will be more supervision to make sure large groups don't form.

For elementary students, interactions will be limited to their assigned cohorts, even during lunch.

Frequently touched surfaces will be cleaned throughout the day by maintenance staff, but the school district states on its frequently asked questions page that classrooms will not be sanitized between periods.

There will be visual and verbal reminders about hygiene for all students along with hand sanitizer. Desks will be separated by partitions.

If you'll be dropping your child off at school don't expect to be allowed in the building. You can only get inside by appointment.

What will teaching look like inside? Teachers still have questions, says the St. Johns Education Association president who met with district representatives Monday.

"We did begin to address today some of the concerns with the synchronous learning model, which means that the teacher would be on their laptop possibly at the same time as teaching live human beings in the classroom," said President Michelle Dillon about the meeting Monday. "Privacy concerns for our students, privacy concerns for our teachers. We have concerns about if the teacher would be evaluated while they were being recorded."

A lot of the frequently asked questions for the school district, which they list on a FAQ website page, are based around protocol if someone tests positive for COVID-19 at school.

If a student or staff member at your child's school tests positive you may not know about it because the school district only notifies those who are directly impacted. Many of the district's answers to frequently asked questions about this say they'll follow CDC guidelines.

While a student quarantines they'll get support from their teacher at home.

The district states that testing negative after needing to quarantine is not required and that the local health department and school nurses will provide guidance with how and when to return to school.

First Coast News questioned the district about this because in a section of the CDC guidelines talking about cohorts it says anyone in the same cohort should test negative before returning to school. The district's Chief of Community Relations Christina Langston replied with this emailed statement:

"Yes, that is the latest (updated 7/23) CDC guidance. It is specific to cohorting groups of students with the assumption that they will be in close personal contact all day. However, we have put mitigating measures in place even within our cohorts, so we do not expect every student to be in close personal contact with each other.  We will continue to follow the CDC guidelines of identifying close personal contact to a positive student or staff member and asking them to self-quarantine for 14 days and self-monitor.  Those individuals’ information will be provided to the DOH and they will contact them to suggest testing based on a case-by-case basis."

What if someone in a classroom tests positive for COVID-19? Does everyone in the classroom need to quarantine? According to the school district's frequently asked questions site, they say no. That would only go for people who are within six feet of the positive person for 15 minutes without PPE.

Dillon says this 'what if' is on the minds of teachers as well.

"I am still getting questions, have been and continue to get questions about that," she said. "What does that look like? Do I tell everyone? Am I quarantining? But I trust that district and union are on the best path to follow the advice of our scientists, of our health professionals and the CDC and we will adhere to those guidelines."

The district states it will not set up rapid testing sites and that the health department and Flagler Health are in charge of testing.

View the FAQ's page here.

Follow the First Coast News live blog for the most up to date information on each school district's reopening here.

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