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Alachua County Public Schools plan for the start of the school year

The first bell for Alachua County Schools is set to ring in less than three weeks. Now, School Board Members are asking School District Staffers to re-evaluate their options ahead of the first day of school on August 24th.
Published: Aug. 5, 2020 at 6:21 PM EDT
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) -As the school start date approaches, Alachua County Schools' reopening plan may still change.

The Florida Department of Education has the Alachua County School District's reopening plan in hand. After a meeting lasting more than five hours, board members are asking staff to investigate whether there is a possibility of starting entirely online.

"A lot of folks have talked to the school board and the district about defying the order altogether and going entirely to a digital model. But there are that would have some significant impacts. Financial is certainly one of them," said Jackie Johnson, a spokesperson for the School District.

Johnson said the school district is trying to determine if that is a possibility while still managing to keep nearly $30 million in state funding for one half of the school year.

The President of the Alachua County Education Association said that one option to limit contact could include a brick and mortar option for disadvantaged groups of students, but teachers would remain home.

"I think if we were being very creative, we could find a way for every para-professional in our system to support students, support student learning. Some of that could be remote, some of that maybe, a digital class in a brick and mortar school," said Carmen Ward, the President of the Education Association.

Ward said the Florida Department of Education approved a similar plan submitted by PK Yonge, a school not affiliated with the Alachua County School District.

Johnson said as the school district evaluates all of their reopening options, one thing they have to keep in mind is when would school start.

"As the board discusses all of the options for reopening school in the fall, whether going all-digital or including a brick and mortar option, the date would certainly be part of that option. What the emergency order says is that we must reopen in August," said Johnson.

The school district has pushed back the first day of school to the 24th, meaning the latest they could push it back would be another week to August 31st.

Ward said, pushing back the start date of in-person classes and starting entirely online for the first nine weeks could mean a safer and swifter return to the classroom.

"If we push this date back, we may be able to get back because we will have flattened the curve enough," said Ward.

Both Johnson and Ward said the main priorities of the School District and the Education Association are a safe return to school for students, teachers, and staff. Johnson said that includes continually evaluating and modifying the plan to accommodate every family.

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