CLEARWATER, Fla. - When Pinellas County schools reopen for the first time in nearly five months, things will look and feel a lot different for students and staff. Everyone will be required to wear masks or face coverings, classrooms will be rearranged and even school buses will have a new way to get on and off.
But as the school district begins to prep parents and students for a new way of learning, teachers question whether any of the changes will accomplish the goal of COVID-free schools.
“I would prefer they'd push back their opening date until we see two full weeks of declining numbers,” the president of the Pinellas County Teachers Association, Nancy Velardi said. “My biggest concern is these schools will shut back down because the spread will be so quick."
In its draft, the school district detailed the myriad of changes to safety protocols in a 37-page reopening plan that also includes alternative learning options for students. The draft released Thursday will be formally presented in a school board workshop scheduled for July 14.
The plan calls for all students, teachers, staff and anyone else on a Pinellas school campus or inside a school bus to wear a mask. The district says the rule is subject to change later in the school year. To help keep everyone covered, the plan says all staff and students will be issued five cloth masks in August.
Social distancing is an oft mentioned topic in the district’s reopening plan, and also one of the biggest challenges schools face. To help spread kids out, school administrators have been asked to remove any unnecessary furniture from inside classrooms so desks can be spaced apart as much as possible. They’re also asked to look into the possibilities of moving instruction to larger rooms, like auditoriums.
On school buses, the district is trying to create a one-way traffic flow by having kids get on at the back of the bus and unload at the front, thereby reducing the frequency of students passing one another. Weather permitting, bus windows will also be lowered to promote air circulation.
Teachers and staff will also be issued sanitizing wipes to clean off frequently-touched or common surfaces throughout the day.
“My email does not stop all day,” Velardi said. “[Teachers] writing the same things over and over: ‘I want to teach. I want to go back. I don’t want to quit my job, but I’m terrified,” she described.
While parents will be able to choose to send their kids back to school for in-person learning, they‘ll also have two other options for virtual learning.
A new online platform supported by Microsoft Teams will allow for live, interactive instruction at a distance. Parents will sign students up for MyPCS Online and students will follow the same daily schedule as their peers in schools. Attending MyPCS Online will allow a student to remain enrolled at their assigned school and students will still be eligible to participate in clubs, student activities and sports for their school.
Unlike the flexible schedule students followed with online learning at the end of the 2019-20 school year, students using MyPCS Online will be required to login and interact with instructors according to their daily class schedule. Parents selecting this option are asked to commit to at least nine weeks, or one quarter, of full-time digital learning.
The other online option is the Pinellas virtual school, a franchise of the statewide Florida virtual school. This system is a self-paced model of learning.
Parents will need to inform the school district of their school choice by 5 p.m. on July 27.
Learn more about the Pinellas County ReOpening Plan below: