BY ERNEST ARICO
Brevard County will delay the opening start date of its public schools from Aug. 11 to Aug. 24 for students in grades 1 to 12 in order to give teachers and staff more time to prepare their schools for safety protocols and train on remote learning technology.
In addition to the new start date, the district announced other changes that include:
- Teachers’ first day moves from Aug. 3 to Aug. 10
- First day of kindergarten is Aug. 27 and pre-kindergarten is Aug. 31
- Students’ last day of school moves from May 31 to June 3, 2021
- Moves non-student work days — Oct. 12, 2020, Feb. 15, 2021, March 3, 2021 and May 28, 2021 — to beginning of teacher calendar
- Second semester will now end after Memorial Day on June 3, 2021
- Early release dates will remain the same, as will contracted holidays. However, winter break will be reduced from 12 days to 10 days from Dec. 18, 2020 to Jan. 1, 2021, with staff and students returning on Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.
- The change also will affect the timing of first semester exams, which will now take place after winter break (Jan. 13 to 15, 2021).
In addition, the new calendar does not align with Eastern Florida State College’s schedule. However, BPS will work with college administrators to mitigate potential challenges for dual enrollment students.
BPS Superintendent Mark Mullins explained why the district needs to open schools Aug. 24, citing the July 6 Emergency Order issued by the Florida Department of Education.
The order stated that all Florida schools are to reopen in August. "If we do not commit to having full time in-person learning, five days a week, beginning in August, we will not be authorized to offer the eLearning and virtual options we have proposed as an alternative to your child attending school in-person," Mullins said. "Additionally, our funding is directly tied to submitting a plan that meets all the Department of Education’s expectations for both in-person and alternative instruction."
To view the district’s re-opening plan, go to tinyurl.com/y2rt2hx3.
Mullins also announced a new virtual option for middle and high school students that closely mirrored the previously unveiled eLearning model for elementary schools.
Under the eLearning option, students would take live daily instruction at home with teachers through Microsoft Zoom video conferencing.
Included in the return-to-school plan is a limited face mask policy that "strongly recommended" masks to students and staff but required them only in certain circumstances, including career and technical education labs and "other vulnerable activities or areas."
The plan also featured an extensive list of proposed safety protocols, including modified routes to reduce the number of children on school buses; regular hand-washing breaks for elementary students; modified classroom and cafeteria seating and hallway traffic patterns; and quarantine and cleaning guidelines in the event of a positive case, among others.
While Brevard schools will be physically open to students, in accordance with a state mandate last month 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, 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 said.
Coursework will have the same level of detail and personal attention as face-to-face learning.
"It will not be the same that we offered when we had emergency distance learning," Cline 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.
Under the plan for middle and high school students, in-person classes will look much different. 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.
District officials say the plan has several advantages. For example, teachers would see fewer students each day.
It also would mean reduced exposure for students, extended class time for hands-on subjects such as music and career and technical courses, and room for an extra course during the year for remedial or accelerated learning.
The plan also calls for elementary school students to 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 might be expanded into other school areas to reduce the number of students in one place.
The district also has ordered an additional 13,000 air conditioning filters to help ensure air in school buildings is scrubbed effectively throughout the day.
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.
Thelston and Brianna Robertson, residents of the Six Mile Creek development in Viera, approve of the district’s new re-opening plan.
"I think it’s important for them to go back to school rather than stay at home and do distance learning," said Brianna Robertson, whose three children — Logan, 12, Addison, 8, and Reese, 5 — will attend the Viera Charter School. "I don’t want them to get behind."