Opening Update Letter August 2, 2020
Dear SCS Teachers, Staff, and Administrators:
Even though I do not begin my role as Superintendent until August 10th, I felt that it was important to share an update as we anticipate the beginning of a new school year during this time of concern with the COVID-19 virus. Many of you have provided input through surveys and emails which has aided our district leaders and principals in the planning process. I also appreciate the participation of the union leaders, community members, doctors, and the health department as we work together to execute a safe and viable plan. As you can imagine, this is a complex and daunting process.
Our School Board wisely delayed the school year start date to August 31. The School Board has also 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.
To provide the safest possible environment, school leaders have created protocols for the logistics of returning to the school regarding arrival, lunch, class transitions, and dismissal related to their individual schools. Parent/student choices, along with teacher leave information, have been collected and principals are using this data to revise student schedules and teacher assignments as needed. If you have questions about your assignment for the coming year or your personal situation, please reach out to your Principal to discuss your concerns.
Many of you 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 any substantial loss of funding.
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 for student choice. The mandate to open the school year as brick & mortar 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 is the entity advising or ordering the school district to open remotely versus brick & mortar due to circumstances surrounding the level of virus spread.
You may be aware 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 publically 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 updates from our Department of Health over the next month.
We have received many employee messages offering a wide spectrum of perspectives. I fully recognize that this is a challenging situation and not everyone has the same level of confidence or wants the same strategies implemented. I completely respect and understand that returning to school is unsettling; our personal families should always be our priority. Additionally, our community of school families is looking for support and leadership from all of us during this time. Even in the face of these circumstances, our teachers have expressed excitement about a new school year, getting to know their students and families, and providing an excellent education for their students. This school year will be challenging as we respond to the COVID-19 virus, with the situation being fluid. When we come together with a positive attitude and focus on our goal, our young people will excel and reach their full potential in a safe and secure environment. I am 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 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 get through 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. No matter the circumstance, I believe that uniting positively, we will succeed and our students will thrive under our care.
I wish you the best in these final weeks of summer break and cannot wait to get to know you all personally.
Dr. Brennan Asplen