Frequently Asked Questions
We know that in these unprecedented times, families and staff have many questions about the reopening of schools in the fall of 2020. Answers to some of the most frequently asked questions are provided here, and we will be adding more information regularly.
Why are Alachua County Public Schools being reopened when there is a spike in COVID-19 cases?
On Monday, July 6, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran issued an order requiring all public schools, including charters, to open in August for in-person instruction five days a week for all students. Students are not required to go back to school in person, but districts are required to make it available to them. School districts must comply if they want to also provide an alternative form of instruction, such as our Alachua Digital Academy. More information on all the options the district plans to offer students are available here.
The Florida Department of Education approved the district's plan for the Digital Academy on August 10.
Did the district consider a hybrid model to limit the number of students on campus at any one time (two days on/three days off, two weeks on/two weeks off, etc.)?
We did, but we recognized that this would pose a significant hardship for families, particularly those with more than one child. It would also be difficult for teachers. Under a hybrid model, teachers would have to plan and implement both in-person and online instruction while in many cases also trying to manage their own children's schedule under a hybrid model.
With the Commissioner's new order, such a hybrid could only be offered in addition to the five-day-a week model, which would pose significant logistical challenges.
When will school start this fall?
Under the Commissioner of Education's most recent order, schools must reopen for in-person learning in August. To allow more time for planning, particularly training for teachers and other staff, the start date for students has been pushed back to August 31.
Is the district considering staggering start times?
No, with the exception of Howard Bishop and Westwood middle schools, which will be co-located on the same campus for this school year while Bishop is being reconstructed.
This option is just not practical with buses arriving at various times, class scheduling and the extra time this would require from teachers and other staff.
What options do I have for my child's education under the district's reopening plan?
We plan to offer three instructional options for families this fall. Obviously the in-person, brick and mortar, five-days-a-week model required by the state will be one of them, with significant safety precautions in place.
The second will be our new Digital Academy. This will be online but will follow the regular school day schedule with live instruction provided by the student's assigned teacher(s). Any digital option will have to be approved by the Florida Department of Education and will have to meet FDOE's requirements.
The third option will be our existing Alachua eSchool, which has been in operation for nearly a decade and currently serves more than 3000 full-time and part-time students. This is a much more student-directed option than the Digital Academy, with more flexibility in terms of the daily/weekly schedule, pace, learning style, etc.
More information on all three options is available here.
Will I be able to switch back and forth between options?
To avoid disrupting instruction for students and staff, we are requesting that parents commit to their choice for at least 9 weeks. Obviously, schools will work with families if there is a change in circumstances.
Will students in the Digital Academy be working with teachers from their child's school?
Will you be able to offer all the courses you currently offer in-person through the Digital Academy?
Our goal is to provide as many courses as possible through the Digital Option. Of course, that will depend on demand (it would be impractical to offer a digital course if there are only a handful of students who want it) and the type of course. Some courses, like those that involve mostly hands-on instruction or specific equipment/infrastructure, would also be difficult to provide online.
Will the Digital Academy involve a teacher teaching both in-person and online at the same time?
In some cases, that may be the case. This is referred to as the ‘HyFlex’ model. The reasons that the HyFlex model may be used include:
1) Courses that are available only a limited basis and/or are highly specialized. HyFlex gives all students the opportunity to take those courses
2) The HyFlex model gives more students the opportunity to take the courses they want online, which helps reduce in-person class sizes
3) The HyFlex model offers a more seamless transition between in-person and online instruction if needed
For those students who have been accepted to a magnet program, will they lose their seat in that program if they choose an online option?
No, those choosing the Digital Academy would not lose their seats, but there is no guarantee that all the courses offered in-person through the magnet will be available in the Digital Academy. Students who choose to enroll in Alachua eSchool will be leaving their previously assigned school to become eSchool students, so they would lose their magnet spot.
Will the district be providing devices and internet access for students in the Digital Academy?
The district will provide devices to those who do not have them and will work with families on obtaining Internet access.
What happens if a school or schools have to close entirely because of COVID-19?
With teacher training in online learning, our experiences in providing the Digital Academy and other preparation, we plan to offer a more robust distance-learning plan than the one we had to develop on such short notice in the spring.
How will you 'catch up' those students who struggled most during the distance learning in the Spring?
Baseline assessment is key to helping identify those pivotal skills and knowledge students need to be successful with the current year’s standards. We use baseline assessment to guide instructional planning to make sure students who need extra intervention to reach the current grade-level standards receive that quickly. The focus will be on intervention and acceleration, not remediation.
Is my child able to receive school meals if they attend the Digital Academy option for the reopening when we return to school?
Yes, students that choose the Digital Academy option are eligible for the National School Lunch Program. This service will be offered curbside at each school site. The details of the logistics will be communicated at a later date.
Is my child able to receive school meals if they are enrolled in Florida Virtual School or Alachua eSchool?
No, these students are not enrolled in the school board and therefore are not eligible for the National School Lunch Program.
ESE/Student Support Services
What kind of mental health services will be available?
School counselors and social workers will continue to provide counseling to students both in our buildings and through virtual platforms for students participating in the Digital Academy. School counselors and social workers have been provided additional training opportunities this summer in trauma-focused intervention practices.
In response to COVID and knowing there will be more needs this fall, we will also be providing teachers with additional professional development in trauma-sensitive practices. Youth Mental Health First Aid will continue to be provided as well. In an effort to identify students at moderate or high risk for mental health or social/emotional concerns, teachers will be asked to complete a universal screener after 4-6 weeks and schools will be provided intervention strategies to put in place for identified students.
Our district continues to work very closely with our local community agencies and our counselors and social workers can assist families in accessing these services either during or outside of the school day. Parents may contact our school-based counselors or social workers directly as school resumes. In addition, we will be adding a link to our website for parents to request support in accessing these counseling resources for their child. A district staff member will respond to those requests.
How will my child’s goals, services, and accommodations be implemented in the digital setting?
As instruction is provided in an online format, so will the services, accommodations and related services be provided to ESE students participating in the Digital Academy. ESE self-contained, pull out, resource and co-teachers will be involved in the synchronous, streaming instruction, just as general education teachers are. Accommodations will be provided in the subjects and activities as outlined in a child's IEP, although they may manifest a bit differently due to the distance learning aspect of this option.
How often will my children receive live instruction from the classroom teacher?
As planned, the Digital Academy provides for daily instruction through an online platform.
If my child has a para in the brick and mortar setting, will that carry over into the virtual setting?
Any paraprofessional support deemed necessary in the brick and mortar setting and documented on the IEP will be available to the student in the Digital Academy, although by the very nature of the model, the supports may not look exactly the same. The paraprofessional may make phone contact with a student (or parent, depending upon the age of the student) to make sure they understand the work and are keeping up with assignments. They may contact the parent in order to continue data collection for behavioral goals, etc.
How will my child be assessed and how will progress be monitored?
If there are goals in the IEP as they relate to classroom behavior, how is that monitored and who will do the monitoring? Behavior goals will need to be discussed between parent and ESE teacher, to make sure the goals in the IEP are relevant for the home setting. If they are not relevant in the digital setting (for example-positive interaction with peers, initiating social interactions with peers, refraining from physical aggression with adults and peers, etc.), they may not need to be addressed during an interruption to the physical classroom. If they are relevant, then the ESE teacher and parent will discuss a monitoring plan. Academic progress can be monitored by both general educator and ESE teacher, based upon how the academic progress is being monitored for the entire class, with modifications as needed. Most ESE students can use the same assessments as non ESE students, while others would be given the progress monitoring assessments included within the alternative curriculum materials appropriate for the student.
How will my child interact and build relationships with his peers?
During the Digital Academy timeframe, the school sponsored interactions will be limited to google classroom/chat/Zoom activities. Whole class activities can be hosted through these platforms.
How are face-to-face services such as speech, language, OT and PT provided?
Therapies, as specified on a student's IEP, will continue on a google chat and/or teletherapy platform that was established during the spring interruption to physical school. We have found that such sessions may need to be broken up into smaller time frames to accommodate a student's online school schedule (for example, two 15 minute sessions per week instead of one 30 minute session).
How will you offer ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages Services) in the digital Academy?
As instruction is provided in an online format, so will the accommodations and related services be provided to ESOL students participating in the Digital Academy. Accommodations will be provided in the subjects and activities as outlined in a child's ELL Plan, although they may manifest a bit differently due to the distance learning aspect of this option.
How will my ESOL child be assessed and how will progress be monitored?
As always, teachers and school administrators will review the most current ACCESS for ELLS 2.0 student reports in developing each student’s English language acquisition goals for the coming year. Academic progress can be monitored by the teacher, based upon how the academic progress is being monitored for the entire class, with modifications as needed. ESOL students can use the same assessments as non ESOL students.
Health and Safety
Will students/staff be required to wear masks?
Yes, face coverings will be required for all students and staff, with some limited exemptions. Please see the policy of Facial Coverings.
What sort of PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) will be used in the schools?
The district has been stockpiling PPE since the epidemic began and continues to order more. Of course, we are competing with schools, colleges/universities, businesses and other entities for those same supplies, but we have been able to build up a good reserve to this point.
By the time school starts we'll have more than 225,000 masks, both disposable and cloth, for adults and children. We'll have 9,000 face shields, 12,000 gloves, 330 no-touch thermometers, etc., and will be ordering more. We've also ordered bodysuits, gowns, shoe covers, dust masks, safety goggles, sneeze guards and other, more specialized PPE for those situations in which they are needed, such as for interactions with medically-fragile students.
By the time school starts we'll have hand sanitizing stations in all classrooms and will be adding to those that are already installed in other parts of the campus, including cafeterias, media centers, the front office, hallways, gyms, and in all our school buses. We've also stockpiled and will continue to order more hand sanitizer, wipes, CDC-approved cleansers and the product.
Will you be testing students/staff for COVID?
The Alachua County Health Department and the Scientific Medical Advisory Committee, made up of medical experts from the University of Florida, have developed metrics that would be used to determine what steps would need to be taken if there is a positive COVID-19 case at a school. Those steps include conducting a rapid test for anyone who has had significant exposure (defined as being within 6 feet for 15 continuous minutes) with the person who has tested positive.
Will you be taking everyone's temperature?
Yes, students and staff will have their temperature taken at the beginning of each school day. All teachers have been provided with no-touch thermometers. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 or above will be directed to the school nurse for evaluation.
Will you be limiting the number of students in each classroom?
With the online options available to families, there will be fewer students than usual attending schools in person. Our current estimate is that fewer than half of students will be attending brick and mortar schools, although that number will vary from school to school. We also expect the figure to change depending on the course of the virus.
Our goal is to provide as much social distancing as possible. Schools will be removing non-essential furniture and equipment from classrooms and be using clear barriers as necessary to promote distancing/separation. To the extent feasible, schools will also be using larger spaces, indoor and outdoor, to hold classes.
How else will you limit contact and promote social distancing in schools?
Based on each school's unique characteristics (age and number of students, layout of campuses, etc.), we will be implementing a number of strategies to limit contact, including providing additional time for transitions, designating specific flow paths in hallways, staggered class changes, and having students stay with their 'cohort' and teachers/staff as much as feasible.
The district's draft plan calls for restricting non-essential visitors and establishing a protocol for other visitors, such as screening, face coverings, hand sanitizing, etc.
What will happen if there is a positive case of COVID-19 at a school?
In collaboration with the Alachua County Health Department and the Scientific Medical Advisory Council, which is made up of experts from the University of Florida, the district has developed a list of protocols that will be followed if a student or staff member has tested positive for COVID-19, has symptoms but has not been tested, or has had significant contact with someone who had COVID-19, whether in or out of school.
The list of the members of the Scientific Medical Advisory Council is here.
In keeping with those protocols, the school would notify families and staff of any positive case at a school or other district worksite. Under federal law, we would not be able to identify the person. However, the district would immediately begin working with the Health Department to facilitate contact tracing for anyone who may have had 'significant' contact with that person, currently defined as having been within 6 feet for 15 consecutive minutes. This would include but not be limited to students/staff in the classroom, on a bus, participating in extracurricular activities, etc. Through the contact tracing process, those with such contact would be informed of the steps they need to take depending on the circumstances of each case.
Deep cleaning/sanitizing of facilities would be carried out as appropriate, and the affected areas locked down for 24 hours. The district would consult with the Health Department on any additional steps that would need to be taken to promote the safety of others at the school/worksite.
How are you going to keep schools clean and sanitized?
Each classroom will be cleaned with a CDC-approved cleaning agent before and after school, including desks (tops and bottoms), and frequently touched and other hard surfaces (door knobs, light switches, faucets, etc.) Classrooms will also be sprayed each afternoon with a CDC-approved products. The same protocols will be used for offices and clinics.
Cafeterias, including walls up to approximately 6 feet high, will be cleaned using the same protocols as often as possible,depending on student flow and traffic, but definitely after breakfast, after school and after extended day programs.
Hallway walls will also be cleaned up to approximately 6 feet high as often as possible, but at least daily.
Restrooms will be cleaned and sprayed with a CDC-approved cleaning agent as often as possible depending on usage, but at least daily.
The district has purchased specialty equipment and products for cleaning and disinfecting, including Bissell electrostatic sprayers and heavier-duty electrostatic machines, which can clean a larger area more quickly, easily and effectively.
Custodians are being trained in the use of this equipment and other cleaning/sanitizing protocols. In some cases, we may also use outside vendors to do cleaning/sanitizing.
COVID-related signage will be posted throughout our schools, including at entryways and in classrooms, with information on preventive measures, school/district protocols, good hygiene, etc. Students and staff will be trained in prevention measures (handwashing, use of masks, proper sneezing/coughing, etc.), and those lessons will be reinforced regularly.
How will you promote health and safety on school buses?
Based on the current moderate spread in Alachua County, the occupancy on buses will be limited to 50% of capacity to the extent possible. This will require running buses more often. Students will be seated beginning at the back of the bus and moving forward to limit contact. Siblings and other students from the same household will be seated together.
Bus drivers and aides will wear face masks, face shields and gloves and will have their own hand sanitizers. Hand sanitizing stations will be installed at the entrance of each bus and students encouraged to use them both on entering and exiting the bus. Students will be strongly encouraged to wear masks, and masks will be made available for students who need them.
A CDC-approved disinfectant will be used to wipe down surfaces after each run (morning and afternoon), including handrails, seat backs and fronts, windows, window handles, etc. Exterior surfaces such as entry door hardware, mirrors, etc. will also be wiped down. Buses will be sprayed with a CDC-approved disinfectant after the final run of each day.
If a student, driver or attendant becomes ill on a bus or this is a report of a positive COVID-19 case (including asymptomatic cases), the bus will be removed from service for 48 hours and undergo a deep cleaning and sanitizing process.
Drivers will be receiving training on proper cleaning and disinfecting, proper use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), etc.
What's the plan for mealtimes?
Food and Nutrition Services has updated the School Reopening plan with details covering how meal service will be handled. Please see the Reopening Plan. In addition, to the extent practicable, food service staff will be marking floors to promote spacing and control the flow of students into the cafeteria. Self-serve options will be individually packaged, and menus have been revamped so that meals can be provided in closed containers unless the meals are served and handed directly to the student. Customization bars will be eliminated during this time.
Products like utensils, condiments, etc., will be provided in individually-wrapped packaging, disposable plates and utensils will be used, etc. Students will be placed as far apart as possible at cafeteria tables and will also be seated at outdoor spaces. Handwashing before and after meal service will be promoted. We are also considering longer meal periods to promote spacing.
Plexiglass barriers will be added in the cashier area of the serving line. Staff working at carts will be supplied with full-face protection shields and will also be required to wear a mask.
Food Service staff will wear masks and gloves. They are trained consistently (all are certified in ServSafe) on proper handwashing and glove use.
What happens if a student or staff member gets sick at school?
Alachua County Public Schools is fortunate to have nurses on duty at every Alachua County Public School. They will be an essential part of the district's efforts to promote the safety and well-being of students and staff.
As shared earlier in this document, the district has worked with medical experts at the University of Florida and the Alachua County Department of Health to develop protocols for addressing positive COVID-19 cases, exposure to positive COVID-19 cases and people who have COVID-like symptoms. Student protocols are available here, staff protocols are available here.
Those protocols outline the potential symptoms of COVID, how families and staff will be contacted, how long they will need to remain out of school/work and under what conditions they may return.
It is critically important at all times, but particularly during this pandemic, that those who are sick STAY HOME.