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McKeel Academy charter schools in Lakeland set to reopen Aug. 6

Polk County

LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – The director of schools at McKeel Academy, a Lakeland-based charter school system, says he is reopening his schools next week because he feels his faculty and staff are ready.

Seventy percent of the 3,500 students at three the McKeel Academy schools will be back in the classroom Aug. 6.

That makes McKeel schools some of the first to open in Florida.

The charter schools operate independently from the Polk County public school system, which is set to reopen Aug. 24.

“Teachers will spray the desk, all the desks in the room. Then they’ll walk back through with a microfibril cloth,” Director of Schools Alan Black said as he showed 8 On Your Side around the Academy of Technology, McKeel’s junior and high school. “All of these picnic tables are new because, for this year, we are having outdoor dining.”

McKeel teachers returned to their classrooms on Thursday for the first time since mid-March.

“We love to teach. We love our kids and we want to see them in the classrooms,” said Rebecca Juliano, a middle school teacher.

Polk County Public Schools is mandating face coverings for all K-12 students on the bus and in the classroom.

At McKeel, masks will be required only in areas where social distancing is a challenge, including the bus, hallways and certain classrooms, like labs.

“If we do our tour of 180 classrooms – I believe is what we have – and we find out that a majority of them can’t socially distance, we’ll mandate masks,” said Black.

Some of the class sizes at McKeel will be the same as they were pre-pandemic.

“With 30% of them being at home, that allowed the class sizes to drop. In every classroom that we’re able to do that, wherever it’s feasible. It’s not 100%. I won’t sit here and tell you that it is,” said Black.

Teachers were given the option to express concerns about returning to in-person learning and request to teach virtually.

“Certainly not 100% of those teachers, we were able to make virtual. All the rest of them, we will give whatever accommodations they need to stay safe in the classroom,” said Black.

Elementary school teachers will either teach virtually or face-to-face. In high school, there will be a hybrid model.

“Some portion of the high school staff will also be teaching virtually. We’ve freed up a period for them, for those that are teaching virtually. They will teach a regular five-period day and then they’ll have a six-period virtual class,” he said.

Virtual teachers are required to give live instruction at least three times a week.

Teachers can also record videos of their lessons and answer questions via zoom or e-mail.

Black said a longtime nurse has become McKeel’s “COVID coordinator,” and is in contact with the health department.

Any coronavirus cases that arise will be handled on a case-by-case basis, he said.

With one week to go, teachers have a message for parents.

“Talk to [your kids] about social distancing, using only your stuff, don’t share stuff. Wash your hands. Hand sanitize,” said Juliano.

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