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Leon Schools To Use Block Schedule, Face Masks As 60% Of Students Plan To Return In-Person

The front windshield of a bright yellow school bus fills the frame of this photo.
Photo by Austin Pacheco on Unsplash

The Leon County School Board will get an update on the district’s reopening plan at it’s 6 p.m. hearing tonight. School officials have been rolling out their proposal incrementally in recent weeks. Among the suggestions: face masks when social distancing cannot be maintained, a block schedule for middle and high schools, and daily temperature checks.

The district has polled families to see whether they’ll be sending their children back to a physical school, or using the district’s online learning platforms. According to the district, as of 8 a.m. this morning, 60% of students have signaled they’ll be back in the fall, while 37% will be staying home and enrolling in the district’s online school academies. The district is trying to reach about 10,000 students that didn't respond.

Local education officials have given parents a choice between in-person classes, online school digital academies, and the state’s virtual school platform. The district has also purchased nearly 33,000 Chromebook tablets so that each child in its schools, with the exception of pre-schoolers, can have one.

For those planning to attend in-person, especially those in grades 6-12, classes will be longer and on fewer days as the district adopts what’s called a block schedule.

“Schedules will alternate daily with periods 1, 3, 5 on one day and 2, 4 ,6 the next. Students will be in school all week days and there are no changes to the length of the day,” the district announced on twitter.

Masks have to be worn on school buses, in hallways, and anywhere social distancing can’t be maintained. Yet, for students with disabilities, there’s no guarantee they’ll continue to have the same teachers they’ve become accustomed to.

“It may not be the teacher you’ve had for three years that your child is familiar with or the therapists,” the district’s Cathy Shields recently said during a Facebook broadcast.

The district is planning on fulfilling its obligations to offer students occupational, behavioral and physical therapies according to their individual education plans, but Shields notes “we have to be real that sometimes, it’s going to take someone at home to be facilitating and supporting students and receiving their instruction.”

Some parents have questioned whether masks will be required for disabled children, and the district’s Alan Cox says it will work within a students’ IEP. The district is investing in clear face masks to help facilitate interactions between kids that have sensory problems and their teachers.

Teachers and students won't be required to get tested for COVID-19 before returning to school. Cox says the test is just “a snapshot” and that there’s no guarantee they won’t contract the virus later.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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