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School begins with optional masks, new dress code policy in St. Johns County

COVID-19 protocols are less strict this year compared to last year, however, not all parents are happy about that.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla — It's a big day for families in St. Johns County as children head back to school Monday.

From COVID-19 safety protocols to the school dress code, there are a lot of changes this year.

Many more students are heading back to school this year because distance learning is no longer being offered. Distance learning was when teachers would teach in person and online at the same time. 

According to the district, St. Johns Virtual School had 1131 students last year, but this year has 682.

This year in the St. Johns County School District:

  • No more required masks
  • No more daily temperature checks
  • No more mandatory desk shields

Compared to last school year, when COVID-19 impacted fewer children, there were stricter protocols. The first day of school was pushed back three weeks, masks were required most of the time, and desks had shields.

RELATED: Here's a list of back-to-school plans for 2021-22, county-by-county

This year there is still plenty of hand sanitizer in schools, handwashing is encouraged, and surfaces will be disinfected. There are still isolation spaces for students showing COVID-19 symptoms.

Sporting events will cap at 75 percent capacity or 1500 people in stadiums.

When kids step off the school bus, the district plans for more supervision to maintain social distancing. At meals, the district says there will also be social distancing and "alternative seating." 

After school activities will follow specific protocols for each activity and the district encourages parents to contact their coach or principal.

The COVID-19 dashboard will be updated daily starting Monday.

Parents, doctors, and school staff continue to push for a mask mandate. Carley Noble brought her third-grader Pace to a rally at the last school board meeting before the start of the school year.

"Trying to keep my kid alive and safe," Noble said. "It takes a village and we are part of that village and we are doing our part and everybody else needs to be doing their part as well to keep the next generation of leaders alive and safe and healthy."

Close to 5,000 people have signed an online petition in support of a mask mandate.

RELATED: St. Johns County School Board unanimously votes to approve new dress code policy

New this year is an updated dress code policy after the district made international headlines when more than 80 female students at Bartram Trail High School found their yearbook photos edited to cover their chests.

The dress code no longer separates policies for boys and girls and now requires shorts, skirts and dresses to be “mid-thigh.”

"There is progress," said Stephanie Fabre, the mother of Riley O'Keefe, whose yearbook photo was edited. "The fact that we are where we are is progress. I think it is not as much as we would have like to have seen. It's really more about making these girls feel safe and comfortable going back to school."

There will also be more students in school this year; last year three in ten students did not go to school in person.

RELATED: Duval Schools reports 82 COVID-19 cases for the first week of school

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