SEBRING — The School Board of Highlands County will be discussing the start date for schools at its regular meeting on Tuesday.
Due to the statewide resurgence in COVID-19 cases, many school districts have pushed back the reopening of schools for the 2020-19 school year to the end of August.
Currently Highlands County public schools will reopen as scheduled on Aug. 10 with parents having online options for their children if they don’t want their children going to school for face-to-face instruction.
School Board Chair Donna Howerton said Wednesday she has been speaking with Superintendent Brenda Longshore as concerns come up.
“Do I want as many of our students and faculty back in school brick and mortar if they choose that option? Yes,” Howerton said. “At the last meeting I did share my concern with seeing other districts considering delaying the start of schools.
“I was hearing from teachers just wanting to be best prepared for their students arriving.”
Howerton said she wants the best safety for the district’s staff and students.
“I also have shared a concern with once we get started if we do have to approach quarantining and testing,” she said. “What plan there is and felt we should involve our hospitals and pediatricians for their thoughts.”
Just in getting tested in Highlands County, it’s a 7- to 10-day process for getting results back, Howerton said. “I so wish there was a faster process there.”
“I’m not saying I would not support extending the start date to just give myself a comfort level,” she said. “I have also been talking to neighboring county school board members and they are still unsure what their final decision is. Yet some have and they have extended.”
In an address to the state amid widespread controversy about reopening schools, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday offered a softer message focused on giving families and teachers the choice to return to classrooms in August as COVID-19 cases continue to surge.
DeSantis said Florida’s 67 school districts should have the option to delay the start of school “a few weeks” and should not force teachers and parents to return to school if they have underlying medical conditions or if they “just don’t feel comfortable with in-person instruction.”
The Republican governor did not mention a controversial state order that said school districts must reopen brick-and-mortar schools at least five days a week starting in August, unless local and state health officials say otherwise. But he also did not distance himself from it, like he has in recent days.
Instead, he offered an explanation about why he believes schools should reopen for the fall term.
“While the risks to students from in-person learning are low, the cost of keeping schools closed are enormous,” DeSantis said. “Let’s be honest, (distance learning) is a far cry from in-person instruction, and it places a tremendous burden on our working parents.”
In a Thursday press release, The Florida Education Association (FEA) stated it has become increasingly concerned about the dangers faced by students and educators alike who are being asked to return to school campuses while Florida is still a global hot spot of the COVID-19 pandemic.
An online survey garnered a total of 48,626 responses, which shows according to FEA:
• 76% of educators do not have faith their school can be reopened safely.
• When given the choice, fewer than 10% of educators would choose to go back to work in person this fall as scheduled, with 76% wanting either to continue exclusively virtual learning or a hybrid model of virtual and in-person‘
• Similarly, 77% of parents would prefer either to continue with distance learning or a hybrid model as opposed to returning completely to in-person this fall.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.