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Need to know

The Volusia County School Board has voted unanimously to begin the school year Monday, Aug. 31.

However, before voting to approve the plan for Volusia Live, a new virtual-schooling option, the School Board discussed applying for a waiver to delay opening to September, and also asked School Board Attorney Ted Doran if they may have the option to not open schools at all.

Doran said maybe.

“There are many escape hatches in that order,” the attorney said, referring to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order that schools reopen this fall.

The next virtual meeting of the Volusia County School Board is set for 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 28.

Three options for parents if schools reopen

  • Traditional classroom setting
  • Volusia Live (real-time livestreaming): This option is pending approval by the Florida Department of Education. Students will remain at home but follow the same daily class schedule as their classmates who are in traditional school. These students are expected to log in and out on time for class every day.
  • Enhanced Volusia Online Learning: An at-your-own-pace, virtual option that has been available to VCS students for years. Enrollment ends July 31. Visit www.volusiaonlinelearning.com for more information.

What will not be offered is a hybrid model that combines these attendance styles. There will, however, be options to transition to traditional classrooms from virtual.

Important links:

Reopening presentation: click HERE.

Full board meeting: click HERE.

Draft of face mask plan: click HERE.

In the final 30 minutes of a meeting that lasted more than eight hours July 21, the Volusia County School Board discussed the possibility of getting around a state order to open schools in August.

Rising numbers of coronavirus cases across Volusia County had already made many School Board members reluctant. Problems with the school district’s current cleaning company, the inability to provide devices to students for a solely virtual option, and questions about how to mandate masks, seemed to have backed them into a corner.

As the long meeting wore on, the School Board had already unanimously voted to open schools Monday, Aug. 31, two weeks later than the original start date of Aug. 17, and the last day to open in compliance with the state order.

Then, more than 50 members of the public called in during two public-comment sessions. For more than three hours, the vast majority of callers urged the School Board to reconsider.

“I completed, recently, my will, for the first time, at 39 years old, because I’m concerned about my health and safety to return to work,” elementary-school teacher Amy Hawkins said.

She went on to read directly from portions of the will. “It is my desire that my children Ryan and Logan continue to visit regularly with their maternal grandparents …,” Hawkins read. “It is my desire that should I die as a direct result or due to complications of the COVID-19 virus associated with my return to work in Volusia County Schools that my personal representative from my local teachers union, Volusia United Educators … retain counsel and file any and all lawsuits recommended by them and/or their representatives, including but not limited to wrongful death.”

Hawkins explained. “I want to let you know that if I die because you reopen schools, I will hold you personally accountable. Because I’m scared to go back — because our schools aren’t safe, and we don’t have the resources that we need. And I am frightened for my life,” she said.

One caller identified herself as a graduate of the International Baccalaureate program in Volusia County Schools, who has gone on to become a certified contact-tracer through Johns Hopkins University.

“I can actually say that brick-and-mortar, as proposed, does not meet federal guidelines, and it will not be possible without massive overhaul of day-to-day operation,” the caller said. “Thus far we haven’t seen any concrete details addressing how schools will decide to close and/or reopen after exposure, what parking protocols look like or what grief support will be provided when we’re forced to deal with a more devastating but foreseeable outcome.”

Many callers pointed out that other counties have chosen to not follow the order (so far, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade all have said they will not reopen in August).

“You have the same opportunity to do this … Stand up for our teachers, our bus drivers, our counselors… our students and staff, all the parents … And if you’re not prepared to stand up for us, start preparing to stand in for us when we can no longer come to school,” one caller said.

Some School Board members explicitly said they would like to see a downward trend in cases for 14 consecutive days before reopening. Board Member Ruben Colón pointed to a federal reopening plan that included that stipulation for reopening schools.

“There are many escape hatches in the order,” School Board Attorney Ted Doran said.

Doran asked the School Board to give him time to formulate a plan.

“I think there is a path, if you want to go there, to get there,” Doran said. The board also plans to ask for a waiver from the state to possibly delay opening to September.

In the meantime, the School Board must move forward under the assumption that Aug. 31 will be the start date, in case the state rejects the waiver, or the idea of defying the order proves to be unfeasible.

Face mask mandates in school (has not been voted on):

According to the draft plan for the face coverings at schools:

“Face coverings must be worn by all students, employees, visitors, vendors or any other persons, while in or on school board property where social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cannot be maintained. This includes, but is not limited to, school buses, class changes, cafeteria lines, in confined quarters, or any other places where social distancing guidelines cannot be followed.”

“DISCIPLINE: The wearing of a mask is a health issue. Compliance will be dealt with as a health issue, not as a disciplinary issue.”


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