In anticipation of students returning to brick and mortar learning in the fall, the Sarasota County School District purchased 42,000 portable plastic “desk shields,” one for each student in the district.

The district purchased 22,000 21-inch plastic dividers, and 20,000 18-inch models from Dobbs Global, a company in St. Augustine, for a total cost of $693,000.

“The purchase was made under the Emergency Authority provided to me by resolution of the School Board on April 4,” said Mitsi Corcoran, interim superintendent for Sarasota County Schools.

Corcoran showcased the partitions during the special school board meeting July 2. She said middle and high school students can carry them around, bring them from class to class, and it serves as a “barricaded workspace for the student to work.”

Students will be responsible for cleaning their own at the end of each day.

Corcoran said that she doesn’t feel students using the partition would have to put a mask on. A representative from the Florida Health Department in Sarasota County said, “Any time we can put barriers up, it ... (helps).” However, he added that air circulation and how close together people are sitting should be taken in consideration when discussing the effectiveness of those barriers.

The board did not vote on the purchase. Corcoran added the board was notified of the purchase via email June 25.

“We could not wait until the July 14 regularly scheduled Board meeting (the special meeting was not scheduled at the time of the order) to place the order for us to take delivery in time for the start of school,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran explained the district considered purchasing Plexiglas coverings for students tables, but the cost at just the middle school would have set the district back $500,000. She also wondered if the partitions would ruin the furniture, once COVID-19 passed, and the partitions could be removed.

The district plans to submit the dividers purchase to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), along with all other personal protective equipment purchases for reimbursement, according to Corcoran.

The school board will vote on a reopening plan, and whether masks will be mandated at their next board meeting at 3 p.m. July 14.

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