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Barriers to be installed in all Duval County schools to protect students

Some parents are happy with Duval County Public Schools’ decision to install plastic barriers in classrooms to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla — If Duval County students end up back in the classroom this fall, they’ll find themselves separated by plastic barriers.

The Duval County School Board approved that in a unanimous vote Tuesday morning. The dividers and social distancing measures are just part of the plan to keep kids safe and healthy if and when classrooms reopen. For some parents, there are a lot of questions to be answered.

The district will have less than two months to install barriers at all desks.

Marian Lee has a rising sixth-grader at Fletcher Middle School and says it was a tough adjustment to online learning when schools shut down in March.

“It was a transition that was very difficult for him, and they were pretty excited to hear a return to school in the fall,” Lee said.

Lee’s son will be learning in school four days a week and every Wednesday will be spent learning online at home.

She says her oldest son, a rising sophomore at Providence can help supervise her youngest to make sure the work is done.

“I’m a working full-time mom, and my husband is working full time out of the house as well. So, I think the structure of the four days will be critical and I think the one day, if it’s a day to catch up, do homework or to do some virtual learning, I’m OK with that,” Lee said.

Lee’s concern lies with others that may not have the ability to supervise their child while working.

“I can’t imagine the single parents and individuals with younger ones that need the structure," Lee said. "I think that’s going to be a challenge for a lot of families."

Other parents like Rebeccah Beller agree.

“It’s going to be incredibly challenging," Beller said. "It’s also understanding if indeed that’s necessary, we all need to be working together.” 

Beller, a mom of two Paxon High School students, helped form a group called Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team on Facebook in an effort to collaborate with other parents and the school district.

Their goal is to help come up with solutions to the challenges students could face in the fall during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Beller says she thinks the barriers are a great first step in protecting students.

“We think (barriers are) a great first step,” Beller said. “We’re pleased that’s happening, but we’re concerned how they will be cleaned, who will be in charge of making sure the barriers will be cleaned.” 

Beller also thinks that masks should be required in middle and high schools.

While Duval County is under a mask mandate, it is unclear if it will be mandated during the school year.

The school board selected two vendors to build the barriers, which will cost around $4 million coming from a special fund to address COVID-19 costs.

The barriers will be installed during the summer before school is set to start on Aug. 15.

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