SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – An emergency order from the Florida Department of Education requires all brick and mortar schools in the state to reopen this August for at least five days a week.
The mandate comes as several districts were still weighing different reopening plans, including Sarasota County.
Up until Monday, Sarasota County School Board members were considering delaying the physical reopening of district schools until after Labor Day. Now, that option is off the table.
The first day of school in Sarasota County is August 10, leaving school board members less than five weeks to figure out what in-person school will look like for students and staff.
“We will have to open up brick and mortar at all of our schools. In addition to that, any of the remote learning that we do will have to be robust, which is what we already have been planning on, ” said school board member Shirley Brown. “It has to follow the same trajectory that we are doing in our regular schools.”
Local educators feel left behind. “I feel like that is where the mandate fell short,” said Sarasota County teacher Melina Adkins.
“I don’t feel like they have necessarily taken teachers into consideration a whole lot,” said Adkins. “Especially a lot of the older teachers and teachers that have health issues that are going to be kind of tackling the fact of whether they should go back or stay home. There’s a lot of things up in the air.”
Sarasota County School Board member Eric Robinson tells 8 On Your Side he is frustrated with the state mandate and feels the power for reopening local schools should have been placed on local leaders, not state officials.
“I believe that this pandemic is not evenly distributed throughout the state; different areas have different situations. Here in Sarasota County, particularly Venice, we have a more elderly population, so we have a higher percentage of people that are in the high-risk area then other places in the state and so we have to take that into account when we have teachers,” said Robinson.
He continued to explain most substitute teachers in the district are retired teachers, so it may be hard getting substitutes when teachers have to call out sick.
Robinson says he has been hearing from parents and staff worried about the risks associated with going back into the classroom setting.
“We have some students who have some health issues that were wanting to opt out for distance-learning. We have some teachers that are in the highest risk area and they also wanted to opt out for distance learning and we were going to be able to match both of them together,” said Robinson. “It seemed like a best thing to do, but now we are going to be forcing people to work in an environment that they don’t feel safe in.”
Sarasota County School Board member Bridget Ziegler feels the state’s directive will help get rid of some of the uncertainty and ambiguity associated with different reopening plans.
“In reality, this isn’t too much of a change of course, I think it is more of a re-certification that we will be moving back to school,” said Ziegler. “We have a very clear timeline. We have to do this. We have to do it safely and we need ultimately to get as much information out there so that people can make the best decisions based on their unique needs.”
School board members will discuss reopening plans and safety protocol at their next meeting on July 14. The board’s views on mandatory masks, temperature checks and plexiglass barriers will be discussed.