Sarasota County School Board pushes back opening date to August 31

Sarasota County's school board had some difficult decisions to make during Tuesday's meeting. At the center of it all is the need for a plan to get kids back in the classroom by August, as required by the Department of Education.

Some decisions about the reopening process were made, but there's still a long way to go.

"As a principal and now at the district, it’s even worse the weight is so heavy on principals and us and you. How do we keep not only our kids, but our teachers and our bus aides and our cafeteria workers safe?" wondered assistant superintendent Dr. Laura Kingsley. "This plan that we completed was a dictate from the commissioner in response to the emergency order. We put everything in here to make sure we would get approved."

The plan includes a new start date: August 31, instead of the original Aug. 10 date. Teachers will be asked to come back to the classrooms Aug. 17.

Students and staff must wear face masks or face shields when social distancing cannot be achieved. Teachers and staff who do not feel comfortable returning will be allowed to go on leave until they're ready to head back to work.

Students will either attend in-person or online classes. If an outbreak of COVID-19 occurs, teachers will need to be prepared to go back to online lessons.

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As school board members discussed their options Tuesday, teachers pulled into the parking lot. They voiced their opinions with car honks and decorated signs.

"Not just teachers, our whole community will feel the whole brunt of going back too soon," said Susan Maas-Lyon a Venice Middle teacher.

Others agreed.

"There is no rush to dump our students in an unsafe situation. I know that I can not have social distancing guidelines met in my classroom," said middle school teacher Mary Alampi.

A handful of parents showed up and voiced their support for a full return to school in person.

"My kids are not learning from online school. They’re losing their knowledge every day. They learn better in person," said Sherri Tennerino.

A plan made now could change by the start of school. Board members know whatever choice they make, could have consequences.

"Safety is the No.1 concern here and the education of students are important but if kids are not safe it’s meaningless," said school board member Eric Robinson.