Parenting is never easy, but parenting in the age of COVID-19 is especially challenging—and I speak from personal experience. I have a son who will be going into 7th grade this fall, and I’m asking myself the same question that all parents are asking these days: “What can I do to keep my child safe?”
As you may know, public schools in Florida were ordered to open up in August for in-person learning five days a week for all families that want that option. But Alachua County Public Schools is also providing families with two online alternatives. The first is the Digital Academy, in which students will learn online but will follow the regular school day schedule with live instruction provided by their assigned teacher(s).
Families can also choose our Alachua eSchool, which offers online course facilitated by local teachers and gives students more flexibility as to when, where and how they will do their coursework. We’ve operated the eSchool for eight years now, and currently serve about 3,000 full- and part-time students. The Digital Academy is a new program which requires approval from the Florida Department of Education and must meet their guidelines.
After much careful thought and consideration, I will be sending my son back to his brick-and-mortar school this fall. I am confident in the comprehensive and detailed plan the district has developed to protect the health and well-being of students, like mine, who will be learning in person. The plan offers information about the cleaning, social distancing, handwashing, and other protocols that will be in place to promote a safer learning environment. It also includes the steps schools and the district will take if there is a COVID-19 case on a campus.
These protocols have been developed in conjunction with several medical experts in the community, including the director of the Alachua County Health Department and doctors with the University of Florida (UF) Departments of Pediatric, Epidemiology and Pediatrics/Infectious Diseases. We will, of course, continue to consult regularly with our healthcare advisors to ensure we are doing all we can to protect students, families, and staff.
Information about our plan, including a Frequently Asked Questions page, are available on the district’s website at www.sbac.edu. Just click on the Return to School graphic at the top of the home page to learn more.
To give us more time to prepare our facilities and train teachers and staff, we are delaying the start of the school year for students until August 24. That change will, of course, have an impact on the rest of our 2020-21 calendar. As soon as we’ve finalized a new calendar, we will be sharing it with families and staff.
We’ve also adopted a new policy that requires all students and staff to wear face coverings at school and on school buses, with some limited exceptions. We believe this is important to limiting the possibility of COVID-19 spreading in our schools.
However, I think we all recognize that there are no guarantees and that no one strategy is sufficient. That’s why we all have to work together to keep our children and schools as safe as possible.
Please continue to remind your students of the importance of handwashing, proper hygiene (such as coughing and sneezing into an elbow) and wearing a mask when out in public. Before and during the school year, we’ll be providing parents with more prevention tips they can share at home.
And we definitely encourage you to make sure that your child’s school has accurate, up-to-date contact information for you. That’s important every year, but perhaps never more than this year.
I know we are all looking forward to getting back to ‘normal,’ although what that will look like and when it will happen is very uncertain. In the meantime, all of us with Alachua County Public Schools will be working very hard to provide our students with a high-quality, engaging learning experience (wherever it takes place) while still looking out for their health and safety and that of our teachers, staff, families and fellow citizens.