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Palm Coast Tuesday, Jul. 14, 2020 4 months ago

UPDATE: Flagler Schools to require masks for 3rd grade and up when social distancing isn't feasible

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Students are encouraged to wear masks on buses.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

Updated 6:54 p.m. July 14

There will be no expectation of wearing masks in Flagler Schools classrooms as the district plans to open Aug. 10. Nonessential furniture will be removed from classrooms, and desks will be placed 6 feet apart in rows.

“Our schools were made for social interaction, not social distancing,” the district’s Return to School Guide says on flaglerschools.com. “Schools are designed to bring people together, creating shared learning spaces. We want our teachers to connect with students in-person, empower our students to collaborate, and increase the value of a shared educational journey.”

The Return to School Guide was updated July 14 to require masks for third grade and up where social distancing is not feasible. Previously, the guide stated the following: “Middle and high school students are strongly encouraged to wear them during class changes and when social distancing is not feasible.”

Staff and visitors are also required to wear masks, as of the July 14 update. Medical exemptions will be granted as needed.

Students are encouraged, but not required, to wear masks on buses.

Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt discussed the plan on July 10’s “Free For All Friday,” on WNZF. She said that for those who aren’t comfortable with the plan, there are virtual options, such iFlagler.

Mittelstadt announced on July 14 that a hybrid option will also be available, with details to come on July 15.

(Other virtual platforms exist, but Flagler Schools doesn’t get any state funding for students unless they use iFlagler. Even then, it’s a reduced rate compared with in-person education, and there will likely be a substantial funding challenge ahead.)

So far, Mittelstadt expects about 20% of Flagler’s 13,000 students to choose the virtual option, but she doesn’t have a recommendation either way.

“That’s a personal choice,” she said.

The district’s Back to School Task Force has been working hard on the plans, including sanitizing protocols, and things could change based on new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control or other state guidance.

“Arrival and dismissal will be the hardest,” Mittelstadt said, but “we don’t want them to not go to school because they think we can’t mitigate those large groups.”

Department of Health-Flagler Health Officer Robert Snyder said on “Free For All Friday” that he had reviewed the school district’s preliminary plans and feels comfortable with them. To a large degree, they follow the CDC’s recommendations for schools in communities with minimal to moderate community transmission.

The big challenge, he said, is what to do when a student tests positive for COVID-19.

“It’s bound to happen,” he said.

DOH Medical Director Dr. Stephen Bickel voiced some concern about the plan. He said if it were up to him, he would require masks.

“On buses, that’s a no-brainer, absolutely,” he said. “The other ones you could debate, but honestly, I would be erring on the side of the being overly strict. I don’t see the downside of that, other than it’s kind of awkward, but they’ll get used to it.”

Bickel is hopeful that a new form of rapid testing will be available in the next 1-3 months, allowing for all students to be tested using saliva; results could be available in 15 minutes and only cost about $5 per student.

Mittelstadt said masks are “not feasible.”

“I have teachers who have reached out to me, sharing their concerns and also providing some great solutions on how we can make this work,” she said. “We’re going to work together to make that great learning environment both beneficial to everyone but also safe.”

Brian McMillan has been editor of the Palm Coast Observer since it began in 2010. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children. Email...

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