Opening Update Letter August 2, 2020
Dear Parents and Community Members:
As the new Superintendent of Sarasota County Schools, I would like to once again thank you for extending a warm welcome to me and my family. I will be transitioning to Sarasota this week and my start date is August 10, 2020. Although I am not yet officially in the seat, I have been responding to numerous emails and having many conversations regarding plans to begin the new school year. In an effort to be transparent, I am sending this update to bring clarity and allay concerns.
Our School Board wisely delayed the school year start date to August 31 giving more time for the school district to collaborate with the Department of Health (DOH) and prepare for the opening of school. Additionally, in an effort to open schools with the highest level of safety, the Board authorized the purchase of over 1.7 million dollars of personal protective equipment (PPE) including masks, hand sanitizer, special sanitizing agents for school cleaning, protective shields for student desks, signs, and other walkway safety information.
Many people have asked about the decision to open the school year as brick and mortar vs. fully remote. Although School Boards have the statutory right and responsibility to make decisions regarding their school district, the Emergency Order (EO) from the Commissioner of Education on July 6, 2020, mandates every school district to open the school year with a number of assurances or be subject to significant loss of funding. Eighty-five percent of a school district’s budget is spent on salaries and the school district could not function with a significant funding loss.
The first assurance in the EO states that all schools must open and allow students to attend school in person at their brick & mortar building at least 5 days per week. The order also gives school districts the opportunity to create a remote learning plan as an option for students that would be fully funded (student choice). The brick & mortar mandate would be subject to change to fully remote only by another Executive Order, Emergency Order, or Department of Health advice and order. The Department of Health would be the entity advising or ordering the school district to open remotely versus brick & mortar due to circumstances surrounding the level of virus spread.
Many of you may have heard that the Monroe County School District has been approved to open fully remotely. This is not due to the plan they sent to the Department of Education. This resulted from the Monroe County Department of Health publicly stating that, although they are in Phase II, the school district will not open brick & mortar since the spread is currently too significant at 13% in conjunction with the high volume of tourist travel in the Keys. In addition with only three small hospitals located 50 miles part, there is limited capacity for hospitalizations. In my conversation on Saturday with the Monroe County School District Superintendent, it was indicated that the Department of Health would allow the opening of brick & mortar school sites again once the spread diminished to 10% or below and cases plateaued for a two week period.
Currently, information from the Sarasota Department of Health indicates a 7% spread with a downward trend for our county. We will continue to diligently monitor the trend and receive continuous updates from our Department of Health over the next few weeks.
As of today, the Sarasota School District will move forward to open brick & mortar for those students who have chosen this option and remotely for those students who have selected distance learning. As I stated above, we have purchased PPE and developed health and safety protocols that minimize risks to students and staff. When we begin the new school year, there will be several restrictions designed to protect the students and the employees, such as: prohibiting non-essential visitors and volunteers early in the year, limiting physical classroom arrangements, and utilizing masks. I believe offering the return to school with a brick & mortar option, in conjunction with our comprehensive safety plan, is imperative to the academic, social, and emotional well-being of students.
As I said in my welcome address video, I am fully aware that beginning this school year will be no easy task. We must all work united, as one big school district family of employees, parents, students, business partners, and the entire community, with the common goal of serving our students to provide the highest educational experience. As we implement our plan, we must come together with a positive attitude and focus on our mission of educating our young people to excel to their full potential in a safe and secure environment. I am fully confident that we can do it! Sarasota County Schools will overcome this tumultuous time in our history with our students and community flourishing and setting the benchmark for others to emulate. Absolutely, the current environment in our state is exceptionally challenging and we won’t always agree; but we can succeed if we support one another. If we collaborate, implement creative ideas, and stand firmly together, we will overcome this unprecedented storm and emerge stronger than ever. As we move forward, let’s be one galvanized school district working together to benefit all students of Sarasota County Schools.
Dr. Brennan Asplen