Following Gov. Ron DeSantis’ order that all Florida schools must open as normal in August, local districts were left to figure out the logistics of how to make that happen safely.
Sarasota and Charlotte County schools have yet to release finalized plans for the upcoming school year.
Sarasota County School Board members will vote on reopening plans at their board meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. today.
They will discuss how and when they will reopen, whether there will be an early release day, if before-school and after-school care will be provided at schools, and whether and to what extent masks will be required by students and staff.
In the interim, the Sarasota County district has been surveying families about how they feel about returning to school, if they’d prefer their kids to wear masks, and if they plan to use the bus. Parents were also asked to register, if they plan to have their child use the bus this school year.
Meanwhile, parents are forced to decide whether to send their kids back to school, or enroll them in a virtual schooling program.
Keeping kids home
Candy Holland, of Port Charlotte, said if the district decides to open brick-and-mortar, she plans to enroll her 9-year-old and 13-year-old children in a virtual program.
Her children would attend Imagine School at North Port, a charter school in Sarasota County.
Her children can’t be immunized, due to a genetic anomaly, so she believes they are at an increased risk of becoming sick from COVID-19.
“It’s not exactly wise to cram 700-800 children in a building,” she said. “You can tell kids till you’re blue in the face, ‘wash your hands, don’t touch your face,’ but you have to be realistic, they’re children.”
Holland said she believes the district could improve its communication to parents.
“It makes me nervous at the thought that they are considering sending these children to school,” she said. “Some people don’t have symptoms so they would be coming to school with it, that’s why I don’t think it would be wise to do that.”
Holland and her children wear masks when they go out in public, she advises her children not to touch things, and she always has hand sanitizer on hand, she explained.
Back to school
Anneliese Ostrowe’s son attends Lemon Bay High School. She plans to send him back to school in the fall.
She told The Sun she believes children are exposed to germs regardless, which helps to build their immune systems.
“We cannot live in fear every day of our lives or teach our children to do so,” she said.
Ostrowe’s son has had an individualized education plan for many years, she explained, as he is on the Autism spectrum.
She said he had tremendous difficulty with online and distance learning.
“He benefits more from a smaller classroom setting, where he has more individualized attention and instruction,” Ostrowe said.
Ostrowe sat with him on a daily basis to help him, but admitted she had struggles, because the online program was “not the easiest system to navigate, especially in the beginning,” she said.
She said she understands that her son will possibly be exposed, but feels confident he has a healthy and strong immune system. She will not have him wear a mask, and he will ride the bus to school on mornings he does not have ROTC.
Ostrowe questioned how masks could possibly be mandated.
“I understand that this is a huge controversy, however, it clearly states right on the side of the box of surgical masks that they do not protect against COVID-19,” she said.
She added that she believes it would be difficult for teachers of young children to get them to keep masks on throughout the day, and if students don’t comply, what would teachers be expected to do? she questioned.
Nicole O’Brien has children who are in the second, sixth, and 10th grades in Sarasota County Schools. She also intends to send them back to school in August.
O’Brien said for her family, online learning “was a bust.”
For her youngest son, she said she constantly has to be on top of him, and it took a lot of fighting to get him to complete 10 to 15 minutes of an iReady lesson.
Her son has an IEP (Individualized Education Program) and needs help with understanding and processing readings. Now, the family is paying a tutor to come to their home for two hours a week to catch him up on his reading.
“Him going to the second-grade depended on how the fourth quarter went,” O’Brien said. “He wasn’t doing one-on-one reading, no speech classes, or participating in activities in the library — he didn’t get any of that.”
She said if masks are required, her kids will wear them. She ordered them all child-sized masks. Though she admitted having worked in childcare, she believes it will be a difficult task to get students to comply.
“I’m not benefiting him trying to teach him,” she said. “He doesn’t learn what he needs to do, because he fights and whines. He doesn’t throw those fits at school with the teachers.”
O’Brien said she believes the district has been very transparent with their communication, almost overly so.
“One day I think I received nine phone calls in one day to take the survey,” she said. “They are very adamant, they are keeping everyone up to date on information.”
The Sarasota County School Board is scheduled to vote on reopening plans at 3 p.m. Tuesday. The public can attend the meeting in person, call in to listen to the meeting at 1-88-475-449 or 1-877-853-5257 and use ID number 532 549 747, or watch the meeting on the districts YouTube channel. Public comments can be sent to PublicComment@sarasota countyschools.net. All emails received before 2 p.m. will be given to board members prior to the meeting.
The next Charlotte County School Board meeting will take place July 24.
“We are putting out a draft of our re-opening plan in a couple of days,” district spokesperson Mike Riley told The Sun on Friday, “Which will be current until there are changes made again and again,” he continued.
Registration for Charlotte Virtual School closes July 31. The first day of school was set for Aug. 10 on the original school year calendar.