JACKSONVILLE, Fla — School is set to start in about a month, and there's still a lot more questions than answers.
The back-to-school plan for Duval County Public Schools may be seeing some major adjustments following the Florida Department of Education's emergency order that all public and charter schools in the state must reopen five days a week in August. The Duval County School Board discussed those adjustments with DCPS Superintendent Dr. Diana Greene Tuesday evening in a six-hour meeting.
The board voted to allow students who choose Duval Virtual Instruction Academy, which is not Duval Homeroom, to be able to keep their spot at their home schools. This was a concern especially for charter school parents.
Elementary school students are able to use Duval HomeRoome, says Duval School Board Chairman Warren Jones.
"That's the main thing is making sure parents have as many options as legally possible," Jones said. "And two, that our kids are safe when they decide to return to school."
The emergency order issued Monday by Commissioner Richard Corcoran, mandates that all students must have access to on-campus services as required by state law, including students with special needs, English language learners and students with special needs.
The order also states that learning in person gives students access to services critical to their well-being, such as nutrition, socialization, counseling and extra-curricular activities.
"No matter what options we provide to the Department of Education, five days of school must always be a part of that plan, so even if we offer a unique hybrid situation, every single school still has to be available to be open five days a week," Greene told the board Tuesday night.
Greene said usually during her reports to the board, she doesn't take questions but did after explaining the state's order.
"I also need to preface it with, I am very comfortable saying I don't have the answer to it at this point," Greene told the board.
Greene said they're confident they're able to offer the other goals of the order, like helping students with disabilities to see if they've fallen behind, and progress monitoring for all students.
"That is not our issue. The issue is that our schools now have to reopen five days a week," Greene said.
The board devoted about three hours to public comments regarding reopening. Many teachers and parents, including nurses in COVID-19 ICU units, voiced concerns about going back to school, the state's order and asking for K-12 virtual learning full-time.
"If something happened to my baby, because I was irresponsible, no. Not like that," Tim Sloan, a father with kids in DCPS, said.
Tim Sloan's daughter has congenital heart disease. She'll be a junior at Darnell-Cookman High School of the Medical Arts. Sloan said attending classes in-person at her magnet school isn't an option.
"She's not going back until I feel it's safe. And right now, the school environment is not safe because of this virus," Sloan said.
Before Tuesday, she'd have to withdraw and lose her spot at her school if she chose to enroll in Duval Virtual Instruction Academy. Tuesday night, the board voted to allow students who choose DVIA to keep their spots at their home schools. Several people in the public comments had concerns about this before the vote.
Greene said nothing right now is set in stone. She said they're exploring other options for high schoolers who she said are most affected by the state's order.
"This afternoon, we worked with the team and we prepared to offer different plans," Greene said. "We are prepared to pivot with this new information," she said.
"This is such a tight turnaround when we’re supposed to start school in a month," Vice Chair Elizabeth Andersen.
As far as moving the start date for schools, Greene said if they do that, it would impact teacher's pay. So, she said she's confident they can come up with a plan in time for the first day of school. The school system is planning a workshop to alter its reopening plan and has to submit its plan to the state by July 31.
A handful of parents in the public comments said they want their children to go back to in-person learning.
As a result of the order, school districts cannot schedule certain students to spend part of their time in school and part of their time at home, which DCPS had told First Coast News it was considering as part of its back-to-school plan. Every student must have the option of being in school five days a week.
The board will reconvene Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. to finish the agenda, which includes renaming school.
The only option for schools to not be physically open in August is if local Department of Health officials say schools cannot open, according to the emergency order.
The state's requirements for reopening schools include the following:
- All schools open: All school boards and charter school governing boards must open brick-and-mortar schools at least five days per week for all students, subject to advice and orders of the Florida Department of Health and local departments of health.
- Full panoply of services: School districts and charter school governing boards must provide the full array of services required by law so that families who wish to educate their children in a brick-and-mortar school full-time have the opportunity to do so.
- Progress monitoring: Robust progress monitoring must be extended to all students, with tiered support for students who are not making adequate progress. Students who are learning remotely must receive additional support, with the option to transition to a different teaching method if needed.
- Students with Disabilities: Students with IEPs must be given the services necessary to ensure they experience a free and appropriate education. School districts must immediately begin working with IEP teams to identify students who may have regressed during school closures.
- English Language Learners: If English Language Learners' English reading, writing, listening or speaking skills have regressed during school closures, school districts should convene an ELL Committee meeting with appropriate staff and parents to determine if additional services are needed.
- Charter school flexibility: School districts must extend the same flexibility in instructional methods to every charter school that submits a reopening plan to the sponsoring district addressing the requirements listed in the emergency order.
All school districts will be required to submit a reopening plan to the state that meets the requirements listed in the emergency order.
The full text of the DOE's emergency order can be found below.