With public school beginning the fall semester on Thursday in Duval County, Superintendent Diana Greene and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry are collaborating to launch a $1.5 million program to provide rapid COVID-19 testing to school employees.
“Teachers, if they meet the criteria with symptoms, they immediately will be directed to a location and that nurse will give them the tests and we will have the results back within 24 hours,” Greene said at a Wednesday afternoon media conference. “That will allow us to be able to make decisions, [and] be able to support that teacher and the classroom or that employee as quickly as possible.”
Half of the money will come from the city’s administration, according to Curry, with the other half coming from Duval County Public Schools.
Greene said some of the money coming in from the city will be allocated to the county’s charter schools.
“We'll share with our charter schools because these are all of our students,” Greene said.
The pool of money also allows the district to hire 25 additional nurses that will be stationed across seven high schools, with some set up to specifically deal with testing school employees.
If a school employee feels sick and tells the principal, they immediately drive to one of the high-school drive-thru sites, and go home until they receive results, which will then determine the next steps.
At a portion of a school board meeting before the media conference with the mayor, Greene and the board heard in more detail what the nurses will provide.
“These nurses will be rotating at schools where there's currently not a full-time medical presence...these rapid response nurses will work in collaboration with the Department of Health nurses to provide additional support to those schools in the district. Some of their responsibilities would be, when there are not positive cases identified, they can help in the clinic. They can help monitor isolation rooms. They're trained to administer medications, and provide first aid and respond to medical emergencies,” said Elizabeth Trisotto, the Director of School Health Services for DCPS.
When there are positive coronavirus cases, the nurses can help with contact tracing investigations.
The school board discussed several topics, including masks, which will be mandatory this school year.
“All the administration at all schools know they need to make sure that, that is dealt with before they even get into the school campus,” Greene said.
Even in classroom settings where students are six feet apart, masks will still be required to be kept on.
School Board Member Charlotte Joyce suggested there be areas set up at schools where students can take their masks off to provide some relief.
“It could be claustrophobic to some people,” Joyce said.
The board agreed that it was an aspect they can look into, but that now is not the right time to do so.
“School starts tomorrow, and we can't start changing the rules right before school starts,” said Board Member Lori Hershey.
For the first days of the school year, there will be additional support throughout the district, including extra school monitors and substitute teachers.
Parents and students will have the opportunity to change whether they want to return to brick-and-mortar classrooms or go with online learning until August 26, a week after school starts. On September 14, the school board will have made a decision on whether to continue hybrid schooling, which is a mix of in-person and online classes, or move to five-day-a-week in-person classes, and parents can change their minds at that time as well.
According to a presentation by Greene, 36.2% of the more than 110,000 students enrolled in DCPS are choosing the virtual option.
From August 20 through August 25, school staff will be at the Schultz Center in St. Nicholas to help parents with questions and concerns regarding Duval HomeRoom, ESE, technology help, and more.
In the presentation, guidelines were set on what would constitute classroom closure, or a total school closure.
A classroom would close if a student or teacher tests positive with at least two symptoms consistent with COVID-19, if two people test positive and have at least one symptom, or if three people have symptoms, and there is a shared linkage between the cases.
In that case, a classroom would close for two weeks and undergo a deep cleaning and disinfecting while students in that class use Duval HomeRoom.
An entire school would close only if 20% of the school is reporting exposure to COVID-19.
The school would remain closed for 2 to 14 days, depending on the outcome of a Department of Health Investigation.
Another topic discussed was athletics. Last week, the Florida High School Athletic Association approved a plan for sports to start practice on August 24. Games are scheduled to begin in early September.
For middle school athletics, Greene said they will wait a couple weeks after school starts before making a decision on a start date.
For football games, Greene said they are still working out the details on fan attendance.
“We will be developing a protocol on crowd size when we start playing,” Greene said. “We believe 30% [capacity] right now... some guidelines say 50%, but we believe 30% is probably where we will land on who can attend.”
If a school were to shut down, Greene said it would also halt the school’s athletics teams.
Sky Lebron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.