By Martie Thompson

The minivans, bikers, and walkers are back, in addition to a sea of yellow buses. School started on Thursday, Aug. 20 for Duval County Public Schools with new protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“Teachers and staff were happy to see the students come back,” said recently reelected School Board member for District 7, Lori Hershey, who spent the day volunteering at Crown Point Elementary School. “It was a fun and exciting day.”

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Crown Point’s principal Brett Hartley, starting his fifth year as the school’s leader, was likewise impressed with how his staff and students handled the first day after an elongated time away from the school’s campus.

“I am so pleased with how this year is starting off,” Hartley said. “With all of the changes due to COVID, I am simply amazed by how flexible and understanding our students, staff, and families have been. I know this is going to be an incredible year.”

According to statistics provided by Duval County Public Schools, this year 111,187 students are enrolled in grades kindergarten through 12 in 165 schools (excluding charter schools). Of those, just over 40,000, or 36 percent, are enrolled in Duval HomeRoom, the district’s school-based distance learning program. Another 1,452 are enrolled virtually in the Duval Virtual Instructional Academy. Mandarin’s student count stands at approximately 7,400 in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Sara Bravo, principal at Mandarin High School, was pleased to welcome her students back and echoed Hershey’s and Hartley’s first day comments.

“The first day at Mandarin High School was outstanding,” Bravo said. “All students wore their masks and appropriately social distanced without issue or prompting. The teachers and staff were positive and excited to see students. Parents should be extremely proud of their children and students should be proud of themselves.”  

Duval County’s protocols for defense against COVID-19 include the wearing of face masks by everyone in the school all day. Additionally, temperatures are taken when students arrive at school and handwashing and social distancing are encouraged. The district has communicated with parents the important request to keep children at home if they are sick or have any symptoms of COVID-19.

To keep families well-informed of COVID-19 impacts to their school communities, the district is creating a COVID-19 dashboard. The dashboard, which is under construction as of press date, will display an aggregate number of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases on school campuses among students and staff. It will be updated overnight with known cases.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Diana Greene taught a third grade class at Loretto Elementary School on the first day of school.

“Despite the challenges I am absolutely thrilled that we are back in school, and even more thrilled that our students are back with their teachers whether that’s in class or online,” Greene said. “I believe passionately that both from the academic perspective and from the perspective of living through this pandemic experience there is no better place for a child than in the care of their teachers. There is no better place for a child to grow than when they are in the care of our teachers, and it doesn’t matter whether they’re face-to-face or online.”

Photos courtesy Mary Eyler
Crown Point Elementary School principal Brett Hartley taking a student’s temperature before school.

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