JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — From schools becoming vaccination sites to setting a date to change gym floors with new school names, there's a lot going on in the Duval County Public Schools.
On Monday, DCPS Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene answered reporters' questions about next school year. She began the press conference by congratulating graduating seniors and remarking on a school year for the books, not only because of the pandemic, but because of a half-cent sales tax being passed and the decision to change the names of six schools.
Scroll down to view Greene's full question-and-answer session.
Masks will be optional school next year. Greene says they are still deciding whether or not they will be mandatory on school transportation, but she says they most likely will not be for secondary schools.
There will no longer be temperature checks at school, and desk shields will be available at elementary schools but not required every day. Hand sanitizer will remain abundant. Greene says the district will continue to beef up their health support services.
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The district plans for five high schools to become vaccination sites, and Greene hopes they'll be able to announce which schools those will be by the end of the week. She says the goal is for every student 12 years old and older to be vaccinated.
Greene says the district will follow the same protocols if there is an outbreak of COVID-19, which includes working with their partners at the health department.
This past school year Duval County Public Schools reported about 2,500 COVID-19 cases, mostly in elementary schools.
The virtual school option, Duval HomeRoom, will no longer be offered. Greene says most students are returning to brick-and-mortar learning, but Duval Virtual Instruction Academy has gained more students. Greene says pre-pandemic DVIA had around one thousand students, and it now has three thousand students.
Greene says the district will continue to use Microsoft Teams and parts of Duval HomeRoom. She says if they would ever need to transition back to using Duval HomeRoom, that transition would be easy.
Summer school, which begins Monday, has also gained students. Greene says more than 20,000 students are participating in some form of a summer program, whereas there are usually only a few thousand students who participate.
Greene says the district is in the process of hiring 20 police officers as school safety officers. She says they are also in the process of implementing Alyssa's Law compliance, which requires panic alarms in Florida schools, and are using an app teachers can use for emergency help.
Greene says their number of staff vacancies is the same as it was before the pandemic, which she says is about 300 vacancies.
Last week, the Florida State Board of Education voted to ban a teaching concept about race relations called Critical Race Theory. Critical Race Theory looks at how systematic racism impacts society. Greene says this does not impact Duval schools because Critical Race Theory was not in school curriculum nor state standards.
Greene says teachers continue to teach students to think critically. She points out the district was recently recertified as an “Exemplary School District” by the Florida Commissioner of Education’s African American History Task Force for their teaching of African American history.
As for the renaming of nine schools, Greene says their goal is to have signage changes done by August 3. She says they're still working on a timeline to implement other changes and working to make sure only private donations and money from their beverage contract are used, not taxpayer money.
Greene says Nike is sponsoring schools' away jerseys, and the Jacksonville Jaguars are sponsoring home jerseys.
Parent volunteers will be allowed back into schools next year and must follow safety protocols, Greene says.
Before the conference, several parents shared what their questions were approaching the new school year.
"I wanna see what the safety plan that the school district has moving forward," said parent Timothy Sloan.
"What happens if there is another outbreak of COVID?" asked Deborah Schaefer, another parent. "How is that going to be addressed?"
Families have many questions, but compared to last year they're also taking a deep breath.
"I'm very excited," said Sloan. "My daughter's graduating high school this year."
Schaefer wants to know how the district will proceed in teaching about race relations.
"In my job and in the workplace we're having Zooms and webinars to learn more about these things and be become more aware," she said.
The president of the local League of Women Voters says votes involving curriculum, like the school board's, show why civic engagement is important.
"We would really ask people to do their own research," said Lanelle Phillmon, president of the League of Women Voters Jacksonville First Coast. "Talk to teachers, talk to the PTA members, talk to different folks and just be educated about what is actually going on. Get engaged because these children become our community members and we need to make sure that they're academically prepared for the world."