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Face coverings, desk shields and a whole lot of hand sanitizer: Sarasota Schools prepare for reopening

Here's what the fall semester will look like for students and teachers in Sarasota County Schools.

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — Schools in Sarasota County reopen on Aug. 31, and the district is getting ready for students' first day back since COVID-19 sent them and teachers home to finish the school year remotely.

“Our promise as a school district is to make sure we are doing everything we can to make those environments as students come back to school and teachers come back to teach as safe as possible,” Sarasota Schools Chief Operating Officer Jody Dumas said.

Teachers head back to the classroom first. Some of the district's staff returned to campuses Monday, and the second wave will head back Aug. 24 to set up classrooms and workspaces.

“Because of the five additional days that our staff will have before students return, our teachers will engage in collaboration with their peers to create wonderful, rigorous, and standard spaced lessons,” Dr. Laura Kingsley said.

Kingsley is the chief academic officer for Sarasota County Schools. She says classrooms will be equipped with little cameras and microphones that allow the teacher to direct the camera to their active panel or to themselves. This will give them the flexibility to teach both children at home and children in person.

“Our teachers are tech-savvy and this technology they will learn so quickly,” Kingsley said.

Students who are remote learners may be part of a class filled with other remote learners. Kingsley says those students will log in as directed and follow a school day with their teachers on their device.

“In many other classes remote learners will engage in learning with in-person learners,” Kingsley said.

For those teachers wanting to mostly teach online, the district is calling that “concurrent teaching.”

When it comes to safety protocols, the district is taking many precautions. All teachers and students will be required to wear a face mask, according to an order that passed 3-2 on Tuesday. The Health Services supervisor for Sarasota County Schools, Susie Denise, says all staff will be given cloth masks in a pack of five so they have one for every day of the workweek.

The district's policy states no bandanas, buffs or gators will be allowed. However, a medical certification will allow a person to be exempt, but they then will have to wear a face shield unless a doctor says that cannot be worn, either.

If a student does not have a note and does not wear a mask, he or she will be asked to work remotely.

Social distancing in schools is something the district has also spent months trying to figure out. One way they plan to do this is with foldable desk shields.

“We have purchased for every student a desk shield that’s going to go on every student desk and that just provides an extra layer of protection,” Dumas said.

Hand sanitizer will also be found around campus. The district is encouraging hand washing, but sanitizer is the next best thing.

This school year also comes with some additional requirements you aren’t used to.

“All parents will be asked to sign a letter promising to fulfill the expectations for both in-person learning and remote learning,” Kingsley said.

The Sarasota Schools will not be taking temperatures on campus, as other districts have chosen to do. Instead, the district is asking that all parents screen their children before they get on the bus or come to school.

“Flexibility is the key for so much of what we are about to go through,” Kingsley said. “And if teachers and parents find that their child is not successful in a remote learning environment, we absolutely want to transition back to face-to-face learning in the classroom.”

Kingsley says the district has worked hard the last six months to put this plan together.

“We are still dealing with lots of unknowns and at any point in time we may need to spontaneously move to remote learning,” Kingsley said.

This might happen if there are multiple positive cases of COVID-19 in a particular school. This decision would be made with the help of the Sarasota County Health Department.

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