Lee County schools opened Monday
After, literally, months of effort, school is back in session.
Lee County Schools opened Monday for the first day of the new school year, with the district offering a number of education models as the pandemic everyone hoped might be over continued to be cause for concern.
The district has implemented a two-pronged priority as doors open on campuses for some while others opt for some form of virtual, or distance learning: Keeping students and staff safe while providing the best education possible.
School Board member Gwyn Gittens emphasized last week in one of a series of board and staff meetings held as the first day of school approached, that a big part of what the district will do is to make sure kids are safe, secure and educated.
“If you drop your child off in the morning at school you expect us to keep your kids safe,” she said. “I can tell you by the end of the school year all of your children will be educated. They will have their education because there will be ways to make sure that is done.”
School Superintendent Dr. Greg Adkins brought that message home to School District of Lee County families Sunday night via email.
“The District team has been planning for a safe reopening of our schools since we closed last spring. We knew that it would be an endeavor like none other and have worked, and will continue to work to prepare and prioritize the health and safety of our students and staff,” Adkins, said, in part.
To that end the district formed a “PreK-12 Education Pandemic Response Task Force” composed of parents, students, community members, local health experts, and district staff. The result is the reopening plan implemented Monday, that includes four instructional models, including traditional, on-campus classes.
“For families that have selected to have their child return to a brick and mortar school in person, our district and school staff have been working tirelessly to ensure that our schools are as safe as possible,” Adkins said in his pre-opening email. “In addition to their educational framework, our teachers have been actively preparing their classrooms by moving furniture to provide as much spacing as possible for social distancing, setting up hand sanitizing and cleaning product stations, and posting educational safety signage for students. Our Operations team has been fogging and cleaning each school and will implement additional daily cleaning measures and weekly fogging during the school year. The team has also been busy installing new ventilation systems and water fountains, and ensuring buses are clean and ready for this year’s passengers. Our Business Services Division has made sure that each District building and school has the necessary personal protective equipment and safety signage.”
Adkins said is comfortable that district campuses have been prepared for Monday’s reopening but added that the district will continue to monitor the situation and is prepared to address any issues, as well as answer any questions or concerns.
“I had the pleasure of visiting a few schools this week and see for myself many of the health and safety measures that have been put in place,” he wrote. “I am even more confident that we are ready to welcome back our students and provide them with a safe learning environment. Despite all the safety measures we have implemented, we understand that sending your child to school can be concerning for families during a pandemic. To help respond to your questions and provide information, we have created a COVID Response Task Force that will be available by phone or email. For the first two weeks of school, the team will be available to answer the hotline from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and can be reached at 239-356-2800. You can also send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“As we live through these unprecedented times together, our situation continues to be fluid. We’ve seen changes in health recommendations which have resulted in revisions to our policies and procedures as they relate to reopening our schools. We understand that this can be frustrating at times. Please know that every decision we make is in the best interest of our students.”
School officials said Monday morning went pretty much as expected.
“We have no major or unexpected issues with the start of school this morning,” district spokesperson Rob Spicker said via email.
Staff was been busy answering usual first-day-of-school calls about missed buses, about Chromebook log-on questions, class schedules and other general first day issues, he said.
Officials, meanwhile, urge parents to opt-in to all the safety precautions the district has put into place, including the wearing of masks and social distancing.
Board member Betsy Vaughn is among those who have said they understand that masks may be of concern to some, but the district believes that masks are a reasonable precaution and will help make campuses safer for kids and district employees alike.
“Why do we wear masks? The masks doesn’t really protect the individual completely from getting the virus, the flu, or any other disease. Why do we wear masks? Out of respect for others and out of the passion for others,” she said. “I’m giving you my point of view as an American citizen that cares about my fellow citizens. I absolutely stand with this administration. We must have mandatory mask wearing. For those people that do disagree, we do have choices in the school district, lots of choices.”
Dr. Mary Beth Saunders, infectious disease specialist with Lee Health, said at one of the district sessions that they accept that wearing masks to protect others from the spread of COVID-19 is critical.
She does not believe this will be an issue with students.
“The amazing part to this is children are so adaptive. In the beginning we thought they will never keep a mask on and they won’t know what to do. It will be all over the place, but we have seen it in our day cares. They put their masks on. They wear them all day long. They are doing great and in some instances I think they do even better than some adults,” she said, in a pre-first day of school session to go over safety procedures and best practices.
As mask requirements have been instituted, many areas have seen numbers decline, according to Dr. Nicole Bruno, a pediatrician with Island Coast Pediatrics.
“We know that it works. We also know from evidence from other states having gone back to school without masks, those schools very quickly closed,” she said. “So this is the only way that we can safely send our kids to school that has been proven already. Our probability numbers can safely tell us there is no doubt that that is how we need to do this moving forward.”
Children should keep a spare mask in their backpack and masks should be washed daily.
The district also stresses that children who are sick should stay home, even if symptoms appear to be mild.
“Your child wakes up with a runny nose, or sore throat, I would keep them home and watch them. It is not a ‘Oh, the school will call me if there is a fever and send them home kind of day,'” Dr. Bruno said at a recent task force update session. “Right now it is, ‘If my child has any symptoms abnormal to their normal functioning they need to stay home.’ If they have allergies we should not miss a day of allergy medicine because that clear runny nose counts as a symptom right now.”