Gainesville City Schools released its back-to-school plan Monday evening, which includes a mandate that all students and school faculty participating in face-to-face instruction wear face coverings when inside buildings and buses.
The plan — titled “Return of the Big Red Elephants” — provides teachers, students and parents guidance on the planned return to school on Aug. 17.
Families will be given two options of instruction type for their students. Option one is face-to-face instruction supplemented by remote learning when “levels of COVID-19 virus do not allow us to convene safely in buildings.”
Superintendent Jeremy Williams acknowledged during a Monday evening board of education meeting that trends in COVID-19 cases could cause the school system to shift to remote learning at a moment's notice, adding that “there is a possibility that instead of starting face-to-face on August 17, we may have to start remote.”
The second option is enrolling in the Gainesville Virtual Academy, a completely online experience that students will be locked into for at least the fall semester if chosen. Parents will have until July 31 to complete an online survey signing their child up for GVA. All students not enrolled in GVA through the survey will automatically be enrolled in face-to-face classes.
According to the return plan “the course catalog for GVA will not mirror the courses available in face-to-face instruction.” GVA students will complete all work online with the support of “identified certified teachers.” The school system will provide support to families without access to necessary electronic devices, but meals and transportation will not be provided for GVA students.
Those who opt to return to face-to-face instruction will adhere to a number of precautionary protocols. All students and school employees will be required to wear face coverings while inside school buildings, although the plan does call for periodic “mask breaks.” Each student and faculty member will be provided with two reusable cloth masks, although they will be given the option to use face coverings they bring from home as well. School employees will also be given face shields.
"We want to reduce the spread of COVID to the best of our ability, and working with local healthcare professionals, we strongly believe that wearing the face coverings indoors and on the bus is a great way to start,” Williams said. “If the spread decreases, we can always back off that guidance. What’s hard to do is step up that guidance.”
Interaction between students will be limited as much as possible. Sharing of classroom supplies will be discouraged, and elementary and middle school students will stay with their class or team throughout the school day. Cafeteria occupancy will be halved, and in some cases, meals will be served to students in their classrooms. Signage will be placed around school buildings reminding students to maintain distance between themselves, and all water fountains will be turned off.
Each GCSS school will also have a designated isolation room, where students or employees exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 will be held until they can secure transportation home. Any student or faculty member who tests positive for COVID-19 will be referred to local health officials for contact tracing.
The school year will officially begin with the start of teacher workdays on July 29, when all school employees will go through safety training. After eight teacher workdays, schools will then have an extended open house period which will take place from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. throughout the week of Aug. 10-14. Parents and students will come in for open house by appointment only and on a day corresponding with their last name. The first day of classes will be the following Monday, Aug. 17.