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With COVID-19 surging, any return to classrooms postponed by two weeks

STORY BY GEORGE ANDREASSI (Week of July 23, 2020)

Indian River County’s 17,000 public school students will now have another two weeks off before returning to class, whether they choose to attend in person or at home via computer.

Rising COVID-19 infection rates prompted Schools Superintendent David Moore to push back the reopening date to Aug. 24 to allow more time for planning and preparations.

“We cannot rush an opening of schools,” Moore said Monday during a Facebook Live presentation. “We cannot use children as an experiment.

“Their instruction is too valuable, it is too important. We need to get this right on Day One.”

There has been a steady upward trend in new COVID-19 cases in Indian River County during the past 45 days, records show.

An additional 390 people test tested positive for COVID-19 in the county in the past week, a 31 percent increase, bringing the total to 1,649 cases.

The virus has killed 25 people in Indian River County and hospitalized 113 others.

Neighboring School District of St. Lucie County also announced Monday it is pushing back the opening of schools to Aug. 24 from Aug. 10 to allow health conditions to improve and more time for preparations.

Moore said he would present the Aug. 24 school reopening plans to the School Board Tuesday evening this week.

“This decision to delay schools is not kicking the can down the road, it’s not procrastinating,” Moore said. “It’s being taken in honor of your children.

“These decisions are not decisions that are taken lightly,” Moore said. “This is an awful time in the history of the state of Florida, ultimately across the nation.”

Mental health support services will be available for students and employees to help cope with the stress from returning to school amidst the pandemic, Moore said.

“The social and emotional impact of returning to this environment is going to be stressful,” Moore said. “It is stressful for everyone involved. It’s stressful for me.”

An issue administrators are still working on is how to provide instruction to students who are being quarantined for up to 14 days after being exposed to someone carrying the virus, Moore said.

Parents and students will have an opportunity to visit their school between Aug. 10 and Aug. 24 to familiarize themselves with the health and safety measures put in place, Moore said.

The school district also pushed back the deadline for students to decide whether they intend to return to school in person, commit to a semester-long virtual program, or opt for a nine-week virtual program, with the option of returning to school in person at the conclusion.

In a Facebook Live presentation last Thursday, Moore said students who do not submit their choice will be expected to return to school in person.

School administrators have upgraded sanitation efforts based on advice from four local pediatricians and two health officials, Moore said.

When schools open, water fountains will be shut off to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Moore said. Students will be encouraged to bring bottled water from home.

Efforts will be made to minimize the need for students and teachers to touch surfaces like doorknobs, Moore said.

“Having a process even for opening doors, that’s how explicit this plan has to be,” Moore said.

The school district is sticking with plans to take the temperature of every student and employee entering a school building in the morning, Moore said.

All school employees will be equipped with a face shield, Moore said. Teachers and students will be issued reusable cloth masks. Disposable masks will also be available.

“Masks will be required when social distancing isn’t feasible,” Moore said. “Where there is not the opportunity to have social distancing in a classroom, that 6-foot space, we should be in a mask.

“Students should practice wearing masks at home, proper hand washing, and coughing and sneezing techniques as we prepare to return to school.”