A student face mask policy and a new virtual learning option were among the items revealed Thursday during a school board workshop that offered a first glimpse at Brevard Public Schools’ fall reopening plan.
Face masks will be “strongly recommended” among students and staff come the fall but will only be required for specific lessons or activities where social distancing is not feasible, such as career and technical education labs, school district staff wrote in a lengthy presentation to the board.
Students also will be “expected” to wear masks on school buses, but it was not immediately clear if or how the policy would be enforced.
While Brevard schools will be physically open to students, in accordance with a state mandate signed Monday by Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran, the school district is offering three additional learning options.
Included are Brevard Virtual School and a lesser-known but existing blended option that combines Brevard Virtual School with some in-person coursework. Qualified high school students will continue to have the option of dual-enrolling at local colleges.
New this fall, however, is a virtual option for elementary students designed to emulate the regular classroom experience in the home.
Under the “eLearning” plan, teachers will engage with students live each day from the classroom through the Microsoft Teams video conferencing application, and the virtual school day will mirror regular in-person classes in both scheduling and pacing, said Jane Cline, assistant superintendent of elementary leading and learning.
“There will be a schedule in there for activity, for recess. The family will follow a very scheduled day as if the children were in a brick-and-mortar classroom, but they’re going to be in their homes,” Cline told the school board.
Coursework will have the same level of detail and personal attention as face-to-face learning and robust progress monitoring will be in place to ensure students are keeping up with their peers, Cline said.
“It will not be the same that we offered when we had emergency distance learning,” she said.
Families who decide eLearning is not the best fit for their children will have the option to switch them back to the regular classroom.
Teachers will be assigned to teach either in-person or virtual lessons and will not be expected to pull double duty, Cline said, although class assignments could change based on shifting student needs.
The eLearning option was still pending approval Thursday from the Florida Department of Education. Staff members stressed the plan was subject to change based on conditions and evolving state and federal guidelines.
Other aspects of the draft plan included a scheduling change for secondary students, additional safety and social distancing measures, and guidelines for positive or presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the classroom.
School district officials are expected to unveil the full reopening plan next week at the July 14 school board meeting.
Read the full presentation of the draft reopening plan here.
For middle and high school students, in-person classes will look much different under the proposed plan. Rather than the typical course load of seven classes spread over the school year, students would take four 90-minute courses that each last a single semester, similar to college.
The proposal has several advantages, officials said.
Teachers would see fewer students each day, reducing their chances of coming into contact with the virus and allowing teachers and support staff to give more individual attention to students.
It would also mean reduced exposure for students, extended class time for hand-on subjects like music and career and technical courses, and room for an extra course during the year for remedial or accelerated learning.
Safety and social distancing
Elementary school students will have regular breaks for hand-washing and all students must use hand sanitizer when entering or leaving a classroom.
New sanitation protocols will increase cleaning of classroom surfaces, and hand sanitizer and other cleaning products will be available in each classroom. Personal protective equipment will be provided for designated students and staff.
Desks will be spaced to the extent feasible and tables seated so students are facing the same direction, per guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Hallway traffic patterns will be modified to reduce face-to-face interaction between classes, while schedules and protocols for arrival and dismissal will be designed to prevent large groups from congregating.
Lunch lines and cafeterias will be modified for social distancing and meal service may be expanded into other school areas to reduce the number of students in one place. Cafeterias will offer more pre-packaged items and cashless transactions are encouraged.
Mobile meal options will be available for virtual and distance learners.
School bus routes will be adjusted for no more than two students per seat. In addition to wearing masks, students will have assigned seats and use hand sanitizer when boarding and leaving the bus. Windows will be open when weather permits.
The district has ordered an additional 13,000 air conditioning filters to help ensure air in school buildings is scrubbed effectively throughout the day.
Virus prevention and response
Parents are expected to check their children’s temperature each day before school and students and staff exhibiting symptoms should stay home. The attendance policy will be flexible; students who are kept home for safety reasons will be granted an excused absence with minimal documentation required.
Visitors, including non-essential volunteers, are barred from campuses except for enrollment, required meetings and emergency situations.
Students and staff who live with someone who is positive or presumptive for COVID-19 will be required to self-isolate at home for 14 days. Any student or staff member who has been exposed to the virus should notify their school.
If a positive case has been identified, a specialized custodial “strike team” will provide deep cleaning with specialized equipment of all surfaces in the exposed area.
Any decisions about school closings or extended student absences in the event of positive cases will be made in coordination with the Florida Department of Health in Brevard County.