With less than a month before a new school year, Citrus County School Board members tweaked a COVID-19 reopening plan for local public campuses and an online school system.
Local education officials also voted 5-0 during their July 28 special meeting and workshop to adopt an emergency policy requiring face coverings to be worn on school property and buses for the next 90 days, unless the board reinstates the measure.
Board members voted unanimously at their July 14 meeting for Citrus County School District Attorney Wes Bradshaw to draft the mandate for students, parents, school personnel, vendors and visitors to follow.
Before voting on it, the school board suggested some changes to the policy, which Bradshaw edited in.
There are several exceptions to the policy. Under these circumstances, mask-wearing is not required for:
•Infants under two years old;
•Students in pre-kindergarten through second grade, but they are encouraged to wear masks;
•People with a doctor’s note verifying a medical condition;
•Students with approval from a school district official;
•People outside a school building or vehicle if they practice social distancing;
•District personnel driving alone in a school vehicle;
•People eating during school meal times;
•People doing strenuous physical activity, like during athletics or recess;
•People giving or receiving health care;
•And those having trouble breathing or a medical emergency.
This mandate also wouldn't apply to students who are seated in a classroom, where desks are spaced more than six feet apart.
Board members agreed to leave it up to school administrators to decide when students playing musical instruments or performing/rehearsing choral or theatrical performances must wear a mask if they can’t socially distance in a classroom or perform outside.
Face coverings displaying offense language or references to drugs, alcohol or malicious content won’t be allowed, Bradshaw said.
Parent Brad Hollingsworth shared his concerns over the policy’s inconsistencies for mask-wearing between students lower and higher grades.
Lecanto High School student Madelyn Chandler said the policy didn’t go far enough if it doesn't require students to wear masks if they are practicing social-distancing in a classroom.
“It will be impossible to keep everyone properly socially distanced,” she said. “If we need to stop this dangerous virus, we need to make this change…If one small action can save thousands, is it worth it?”
Wearing a face shield by itself doesn’t comply with the school district’s mandate, unless a doctor allows it for a student.
Teachers are allowed to use face shields if their students need to see their instructor’s mouth.
School district employees who refuse to abide by the policy will be given a chance to comply before they’re disciplined for insubordination and/or misconduct.
Likewise, students who keep refusing to follow the policy will be reassigned to continue their education at home via a virtual learning option.
Following their vote on the face-covering mandate, school board members also workshopped their district’s 48-page reopening plan for its brick-and-mortar schools, known as Citrus Cares.
Board members voted 5-0 July 14 to postpone the first day of the 2020-21 school year from Aug. 10 to Aug. 20, with teachers returning Aug. 11.
The reopening plan also covers Citrus Virtual School — the school district’s online campus taught by local teachers using Florida Virtual School curriculum — and online courses for International Baccalaureate students and students enrolled in an specialized academy course.
There are also strategies within the plan for schools to follow if a student or employee contracts COVID-19.
More on the reopening plan will be available once the school district submits it to the Florida Department of Education by Friday, July 31.
Superintendent Sandra “Sam” Himmel said classrooms and cafeterias districtwide are being rearranged with desks and lunch tables spaced apart and facing one-way.
Himmel said activities and movements on campuses will be limited for the first nine weeks as students and staff settle into a new educational environment.
Students will also be assessed and tested for schools to determine learning gaps when campuses shuttered in mid-March due to COVID-19.