A COVID-19 Education Pop-up Forum featuring Director of Policy Chris Spencer and other state education leaders on Monday highlighted the logistical challenges local school districts will face as they prepare to reopen schools on August 10.
The leaders discussed Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s plan to reopen schools and fielded questions about their ongoing efforts.
While the Governor’s plan provided some guidance to schools and districts, the forum accentuated how much freedom and cost is left with each respective institution on how they will protect students and staff.
“The recommendations that we rolled out last week were really meant to be locally driven,” said Florida Department of Education Chief of Staff Alex Kelly. “Every school district and every school is unique. We didn’t want to roll out a plan that was descriptive and said you must do these things. Rather, it was recognized that there’s going to be different strengths and weaknesses and opportunities, and, ultimately, each school and school district will need comprehensive plans to address its unique considerations.”
Sanitation materials and PPE supplies, particularly the costs, were the forefront of the forum for Hillsborough County Schools Superintendent Addison Davis.
From lysol wipes and soap to face masks, social distance strategies and daily screenings, the costs can quickly overwhelm school budgets.
“We would love to make certain that everyone had the necessary PPE that they need to feel comfortable,” Davis said. “But when you have 220,000 students, for us to buy a single day, single use mask for our children it would cost us $9 million dollars a month in order to do so.”
Davis added, however, that employees will be provided reusable masks.
The Governor’s plan does not require students to wear face masks but students are encouraged to do so.
Transportation such as school buses also pose a challenge for school districts.
“As it relates to busses, we are going to give masks to every student that wants to ride the bus,” Davis said. “If we were going to practice social distancing with the number of students riding in Hillsborough County, we would have to purchase 2,000 additional busses and hire personnel. When you look at fuel, we’d have to spend $310 million a year in order to implement that.”
In the Governor’s plan, helping school districts and schools with logistical and fiscal challenges will be tasked to the Department of Emergency Management.
Spencer told leaders that the state recognizes the hurdles and aid will be assessed by particular cases.
“Its on a district by district need level on how much resources can a school district provide to be able to meet their needs and what kind of assistance they need from the state,” Spencer said.
“Its been a very challenging market throughout this whole period with substantial amounts of demand for PPE and for sanitation material. But our Division of Emergency Management has navigated through that. I think it’s very important to make sure there is a confidence level at the school level and at the district level that the state is here as a partner to make sure that every school has the resources they need and materials they need to be able to safely reopen.”
Reopening Florida schools will be funded in part by $2 billion received from the CARES Act.
The forum was hosted by Gray Robinson and moderated by President and CEO Dean Cannon and Senior Government Affairs Consultant Kim McDougal.