Jacksonville leaders hype school reopening ahead of Thursday start

Coronavirus school reopening concept. A boy student stands in front of school bus wearing a face mask and backpack with stop sign clearly visible.
Schools reopen in Jacksonville Thursday.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and other city leaders convened Wednesday to put a happy face on reopening brick and mortar schools Thursday.

Curry, addressing media on the subject, pointed to decreasing positive tests as he made a now-familiar case about the need to return to normalcy for the youth.

Helping out: A $1.5 million cost share between the city and the Duval County School District to provide nurses and rapid testing sites.

The Mayor, with Duval County School Superintendent Diana Greene and Democratic City Council member Brenda Priestly Jackson, extolled the virtues of partnership and collaboration.

Curry expressed confidence that after a spring and summer of test rate turbulence the pandemic was more or less under control, with the positive testing rate down to 4.2%. Hospital capacity abounds, and there is “tremendous testing capacity … a lot of availability.”

While the Mayor “understands the anxiety and stress,” he noted that two of his children would be going to public schools (a third is at a local parochial school).

Priestly Jackson stressed the testing access is an expansion of services for teachers and staff, “on the front lines if this.” Among those front line workers is the first-term lawmaker’s husband, a classroom teacher.

Greene noted that charter school staff would likewise have access to testing, a nod to the new spirit of hand-in-hand cooperation between charters and traditional public schools.

In Duval, there is another question — that of the physical facilities, to which almost 64% of the district’s more than 111,000 students will return Thursday.

November will see a vote for a 1/2 cent sales tax designed to help fund long-delayed capital improvements to building stock that is the oldest of any major city in the state. The Jacksonville City Council grudgingly agreed to put the measure on the ballot, after members were reassured that charter schools would get per-pupil share equity with traditional government-run facilities.

Curry, after blunting the push for the tax in 2019, backs it in 2020, and a political committee aligned with his operation is approaching $500,000 raised. A second committee, affiliated with School Board member Warren Jones, has another $400,000.

In context of these older buildings and the potential health risks they pose, we asked Curry to evaluate the wisdom of further deferring the capital work due to political wrangling.

The Mayor said he made the “best decisions with the best information available at the time,” noting that even if the referendum had passed, the money would not have been available or programmable in time for meaningful adaptation to the pandemic.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for FloridaPolitics.com since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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