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Leon School Board Pushes Start Date To August 31

rocky hanna in a red shirt speaking at podium
Ryan Dailey

Leon County students will now go back to school on August 31st. The school board voted to push the date back a week following the deaths of two Fort Braden School employees from COVID-19. Local teachers are overwhelmingly afraid to return to a physical classroom. Some are opting for early retirements or extended leave.

“I felt the panic today from our schools that they’re just not ready…and we’re also giving our parents more time to decide," said board member Alva Striplin who made the motion to push back the school year start date.

Parents have a choice in choosing to send their kids back to in-person school or do classes remotely. Districts have to submit reopening plans to the state by Thursday, and they must offer classes in-person. Some 60% of local families want their kids to go back to a physical classroom.

Those classes will look a lot differently this year.

Desks will be a minimum of three feet apart in classrooms, not the six recommended by the CDC. And students and staff who’ve been exposed to the coronavirus will have to quarantine for two weeks. Employees can use up to 80 hours of leave per federal guidelines.

Middle and high school students will take fewer classes a day but remain in class longer in order to limit student-student interactions. But there are still unanswered questions, such as what will trigger a school shutdown, and how to address teachers who have underlying conditions that may make them more susceptible to COVID-19. Superintendent Rocky Hanna notes the plans are temporary.

“This is just right now for the first semester of the school year. And heaven forbid if something good happens… it’s done. All our kids come back. And I think we have to keep that in mind. That this is just the plan for now.”

The district is planning to run its reopening plans by local health officials, following a recommendation by board chairwoman DeeDee Rasmussen to hire a Chief Medical Officer to advise the district.

Still left unanswered: what is the threshold for infections that will trigger schools to close, and how to accommodate teachers with underlying conditions. About sixty percent of school families are planning to send their kids back to class in-person. The district bought more than 35,000 devices to hand out to kids. However, shipping has been delayed and they won’t be delivered before the first day of school. The district has an alternative supplier.

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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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