The ongoing COVID-19 outbreak remains a dynamic and variable situation. And, with a new semester just around the corner, there are a lot of questions on the minds of parents, students, and educators.
Many students are wondering whether they’ll go back to school, or resume distance learning. And, if they do go back, how will schools manage to keep them—and their teachers—safe?
One of the most troubling things about the present moment is the uncertainty. The conditions on the ground can change from one minute to the next, which can lead to a lot of confusion. That said, as of this writing, schools in Pinellas County are expected to reopen on August 24.
With that in mind, what should you know before heading back into the classroom?
#1. Three Learning Options
The first thing to know is that students had three different learning options to choose from. These include traditional in-person learning, the MyPCS Online innovative digital learning solution, and the Pinellas Virtual School.
Based on survey results conducted over the summer, district officials expect that a little less than two-thirds of students will return to class. These numbers could change, as some students have yet to select an option, but the district does not expect any major shifts.
If you didn’t respond to the survey through the Student Reservation System by July 27, you were most likely enrolled in the tradition option automatically. If you need to change your learning option, though, you can still do that by contacting your school directly. You can find your school’s contact information here.
#2. Could Schools Still Close Later?
Yes. If the Department of Health finds that an individual school needs to close due to a spike in COVID-19 infections, the district has a plan in place for transitioning students to distance learning:
- If a school closes for less than 5 days, then teachers will post lessons on the student portal FOCUS for students to complete and post.
- If a school closes for more than 5 days, teachers will use Microsoft Teams to ensure no disruption in learning.
While the district says this is unlikely, it’s important that you stay up-to-date on developments at each individual school.
#3. What Enhanced Cleaning Procedures Will be in Place?
Maintenance staff at schools have been instructed to wipe down and sanitize “all touchable areas” of the school after each day. High-traffic areas, like bathrooms, lunchrooms, and door handles, are to be wiped down multiple times a day.
Of course, the added attention needed to ensure sanitation at this level means that maintenance staff will be spread thinner than usual. As such, some ongoing regular maintenance and litter pickup will be de-prioritized by the schools.
Similar procedures will be used for buses, with drivers wiping down seats, windows, and all other touchable areas.
#4. What about Absences? What if I Get Sick at School?
The district has suspended school attendance as a requirement for the high school exam exemption policy for the fall semester. However, all other facets of the school attendance policy remain in place. That said, in line with the CDC guidelines, students and staff are asked to stay home if they have a fever above 100.4 degrees at any time, or if they show any other symptoms associated with COVID-19.
If a student develops symptoms while at school, they will be isolated under adult supervision, and a family member or emergency contact will be asked to pick them immediately. There will also be separate clinic spaces at school for students who feel unwell.
#5. What About Field Trips and Extracurriculars?
Different rules will apply for different activities associated with schools, including:
- Field Trips: There will be no field trips scheduled through the end of the first quarter of the year, at least.
- School Clubs: Clubs are allowed to continue operating. However, members are asked to use social distancing best practices, and are encouraged to meet virtually if possible.
- Athletics: Sports teams are allowed to participate in “outdoor, voluntary workouts in small groups. That said, sports including football, basketball, and volleyball still have games scheduled as of this writing.
We realize that you have a lot of questions about the upcoming school year, and there’s no way we could answer them all effectively in one post. We wanted to address some of the main concerns on students and parents’ minds regarding how things will work on August 24.
If you have additional questions, here is the full, detailed Reopening Plan published by Pinellas County Schools. You can also get in touch with representatives from PCS and ask questions related to dozens of different topics by clicking here.