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Palm Coast Wednesday, Jul. 29, 2020 2 months ago

School year start will be delayed until Aug. 24

The School Board may revisit the school calendar later in the year to add in teacher work days and training days.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Flagler Schools students won't return to school until Aug. 24 — 10 school days later the school district had initially planned. 

The School Board during a special meeting July 28 voted to revise the school calendar to shift students' start date back, shortening Thanksgiving, winter and spring breaks and front-loading four teacher work days and four training days to the start of the year, before students' return.

"If you think teachers are afraid to go back, what do you think bus drivers and aids are feeling? ... If one student is sick from COVID we are all in trouble, and could possibly die."

— JOSEPH SCHNEIDER, school bus driver

The front loading of the eight teacher work days and training days means a dense school year for teachers and staff — who will return on Aug. 10 — and drew opposition from board member Colleen Conklin, who was the only board member for vote against the proposed calendar change. Conklin said she didn't oppose moving the start date back, but would have preferred an arrangement that left some days during the school year for teachers to deal with planning and grading. 

Other board members expressed similar concern, and decided to revisit the calendar later in the fall to look at adjusting the spring semester.

"There’s zero time in this calendar for teachers to do grading, planning, inputting grades — all the things that they do on that teacher workday, and so I’m really concerned about that," Conklin said. "That is a tremendous amount of work to be done on its own time."Board Chairwoman Janet McDonald said she wondered about options for relief for students as well. 

State laws requiring specific amounts of instruction time per year limit the district's options. Conklin called the district's position a catch-22, and asked whether the school year could be extended so that it would end later in the summer, allowing for more breaks during the year.

The district looked into that, School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin told board members, but it would be expensive: Each additional school day would entail $230,000 in extra costs for the district in teacher pay alone.

The newly approved calendar for the coming year keeps the school year at 179 days for students, down by just one day from the previous calendar.

Board members' vote to alter the school start date followed several dozen comments on the matter by members of the public, and an explanation by Superintendent Cathy Mitttelstadt and Executive Director of Leadership and Operations Earl Johnson of the benefits of the proposed delay.

The residents who submitted comments that were read at the board meeting overwhelmingly favored waiting to reopen — in many cases, for much longer than the district was considering. 

"I recognize the great need to reopen schools for both parents and students, the amount of work and planning the School Board has done, and the challenging situation that the School Board has been put in," wrote Maureen Malloy. "It is unfortunate that gyms and bars reopened too soon and now our children have to suffer. However, the high number of daily coronavirus cases in our community, the high transmission rates among middle and high school children, and the potential health complications including hospitalization and death make it irresponsible and negligent to reopen schools now."

Malloy said that in-person instruction shouldn't reopen until community transmission rates drop below one per 100,000 people.

Local parent Jennifer Bertrand wrote, "Please consider a switch to virtual learning across the entire district for the first semester of the 20-21 school year. With the positive cases continuing to rise, and an announcement of 8,000 children under the age of 17 having tested positive in the state of Florida, the responsible action to take would be to go 100% virtual for the first semester."

Joseph Schneider wrote that he's been a school bus driver for 20 years and can't wait to get back to work. "But not under these circumstances," he wrote. "If you think teachers are afraid to go back, what do you think bus drivers and aids are feeling? If you think a mask is going to help us on a bus in that small confined space, then you are sadly mistaken. If one student is sick from COVID we are all in trouble, and could possibly die. Not only should schools not reopen, but there should be no transportation at all. The School Board has the power to keep schools shut down and should do so. I personally will not let anyone play Russian roulette with my life. Please wait until the numbers have stabilized for a required amount of time before reopening."

Mittelstadt and Johnson said that the reason for starting 10 days late isn't to wait out the virus, but to give school staff more time to prepare. 

Teachers will be teaching in two formats simultaneously this year — to students in a brick and mortar classroom, and also to students who are watching from home over a webcam.

"We have a lot of trainings that we need to do," Johnson said. "We wanted to make sure that we provide enough training for our staff ... so they will be prepared to receive our students on the 24th."

He offered to take the proposed calendar back to the committee that had developed it. 

But other board members wanted to make a decision. The board voted 4-1 in favor of the calendar change, with Conklin dissenting.







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