By Martie Thompson

The minivans, bikers, and walkers are back, in addition to a sea of yellow buses. School started on Tuesday, Aug. 10 for Duval County Public Schools.

“Teachers and students were excited to be back on campus,” said Lori Hershey, Duval County School Board representative for District 7, which includes Mandarin. She spent the day volunteering at Twin Lakes Academy Elementary and Greenland Pines Elementary.

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“Unfortunately, it wasn’t a return to normal as we had hoped and I know a lot of parents were disappointed in that,” Hershey said.

This year, Loretto Elementary School welcomed 980 students to its campus. Principal Tammy Haberman said that as a long time educator, two themes she has learned as models for success in education are commitment and resilience — something that her teachers, staff and students all reaffirmed last year and will likely have to do again this year.

“We all had to dig deep last year, and I am so proud of the Loretto Elementary team for getting it done,” Haberman said. “This year will also bring challenges I’m sure, but with the commitment to education and the resilience I’ve witnessed, I’m very confident this is going to be a great year.”  

According to statistics provided by Duval County Public Schools, this year more than 7,800 teachers will instruct 105,195 students who are enrolled in grades kindergarten through 12 in 160 schools (excluding charter schools). Another 2,823 are enrolled virtually in the Duval Virtual Instructional Academy. Mandarin’s student count stands at approximately 6,000 in kindergarten through 12th grade. All Mandarin elementary and middle schools have achieved an “A” grade from the Florida Department of Education and Mandarin High School has achieved the grade of “B.” For the 2021 – 2022 school year, every student will receive free breakfast and lunch, regardless of financial ability.

This year, Duval County Public Schools strongly recommends face masks during the school day and at school-related events. Students not wearing a mask pursuant to this policy must, through their parent or guardian, complete the opt-out process. Face masks are required in schools and district facilities through Friday, Sept. 3 for employees, district vendors, and visitors. Additionally, daily cleaning and disinfecting of high touch point surfaces in schools and district offices will continue. Visit the district’s Health and Safety webpage at for the most up to date information.

In a nutshell, the district’s webpage recommends: “Wear a mask. Wash your hands often. Cover coughs and sneezes. Stay six feet away from others outside of classrooms and three feet inside classrooms while with classmates. Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces regularly. Monitor your health daily. Stay home if you are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19: Fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.” 

Photo courtesy Mary J. Eyler
Crown Point Elementary kindergarten teacher Andrea Gore reading “Timothy Goes to School” by Rosemary Wells to her class.

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