Frequently Asked Questions
Why are Alachua County Public Schools open for in-person instruction during the pandemic?
On Monday, July 6, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran issued an emergency order requiring all public schools, including charters, to open in August for in-person instruction five days a week for all students. Governor Ron DeSantis and Commissioner Corcoran then reaffirmed that order with another emergency order issued on November 30. That order can be viewed here.
Alachua County Public Schools submitted a plan to offer an alternative form of instruction to the state, which was approved. That alternative form of instruction is our Digital Academy, which allows students to attend their school of enrollment virtually. In keeping with state requirements, students attending the Digital Academy follow the regular school day schedule with live instruction provided by the student’s assigned teacher(s).
Will online learning continue to be an option in the second semester?
Yes. The November 30 emergency order from the state does allow districts to continue to offer the ‘innovative learning’ model, which in our case is the Digital Academy, through the end of this school year.
Students may also continue to attend our other online option, Alachua eSchool. This option, which has been in operation for nearly a decade, currently serves more than 3000 full-time and part-time students. This is a much more student-directed option than the Digital Academy, with more flexibility in terms of the daily/weekly schedule, pace, learning style, etc. More information about Alachua eSchool is available at www.sbac.edu/aes.
Will parents have to sign up to remain in the Digital Academy for the second semester?
The new emergency order requires districts to notify in writing the families of any students who are not making adequate progress in the ‘innovative learning’ model, which for ACPS is the Digital Academy. The order also requires parents to acknowledge in writing that they have received the notification but still want their child to remain in the Digital Academy. Otherwise, the order requires those students to be moved back into in-person instruction.
When does the second semester begin? When does the school year end?
The second semester begins Monday, February 1. Unless there is an emergency school closing, the last day for students for the 2020-21 school year is Wednesday, June 16. This is later than the typical end of school date due to the delay in start school in 2020. The delay allowed for more teacher/staff training and additional preparations in light of COVID-19.
The full school year calendar is available here.
Does the Digital Academy involve a teacher teaching both in person and online at the same time?
Yes, it is often the case that teachers are teaching in the ‘HyFlex’ model. The reasons that our district and districts across the state are using this model include:
- Courses that are available only on a limited basis and/or are highly specialized. HyFlex gives all students the opportunity to take those courses
- The HyFlex model gives more students the opportunity to take the courses they want online, which helps reduce in-person class sizes.
- The HyFlex model offers a more seamless transition between in-person and online instruction when needed.
Does the district provide devices and internet access for students in the Digital Academy?
The district has distributed more than 7000 laptops and iPads and 1000 hotspots to students learning online. Schools will work with families who need assistance in this area.
What happens if a classroom or school has to close entirely to in-person instruction because of COVID?
Students will transition to the Digital Academy until the affected classroom/school is able to reopen for in-person instruction.
Can my child still get free meals if they are enrolled in the Digital Academy or Alachua eSchool?
Yes, curbside pickup is available for all Alachua County children ages 0-18 on Tuesdays and Thursdays at various sites throughout the district. This includes breakfast and lunch for every day of the week, including weekends. This service will continue through the rest of this school year, with just a one-week break during the winter holidays. More information on meal distribution is available at www.yourchoicefresh.com.
ESE/Student Support Services
What kind of mental health services will be available?
School counselors and social workers will continue to provide counseling to students both in our buildings and through virtual platforms for students participating in the Digital Academy. School counselors and social workers have been provided additional training opportunities this summer in trauma-focused intervention practices.
In response to COVID and knowing there will be more needs this fall, we will also be providing teachers with additional professional development in trauma-sensitive practices. Youth Mental Health First Aid will continue to be provided as well. In an effort to identify students at moderate or high risk for mental health or social/emotional concerns, teachers will be asked to complete a universal screener after 4-6 weeks and schools will be provided intervention strategies to put in place for identified students.
Our district continues to work very closely with our local community agencies and our counselors and social workers can assist families in accessing these services either during or outside of the school day. Parents may contact our school-based counselors or social workers directly as school resumes. In addition, we will be adding a link to our website for parents to request support in accessing these counseling resources for their child. A district staff member will respond to those requests.
How will my child’s goals, services, and accommodations be implemented in the digital setting?
As instruction is provided in an online format, so will the services, accommodations and related services be provided to ESE students participating in the Digital Academy. ESE self-contained, pull out, resource and co-teachers will be involved in the synchronous, streaming instruction, just as general education teachers are. Accommodations will be provided in the subjects and activities as outlined in a child's IEP, although they may manifest a bit differently due to the distance learning aspect of this option.
How often will my children receive live instruction from the classroom teacher?
As planned, the Digital Academy provides for daily instruction through an online platform.
If my child has a para in the brick and mortar setting, will that carry over into the virtual setting?
Any paraprofessional support deemed necessary in the brick and mortar setting and documented on the IEP will be available to the student in the Digital Academy, although by the very nature of the model, the supports may not look exactly the same. The paraprofessional may make phone contact with a student (or parent, depending upon the age of the student) to make sure they understand the work and are keeping up with assignments. They may contact the parent in order to continue data collection for behavioral goals, etc.
How will my child be assessed and how will progress be monitored?
If there are goals in the IEP as they relate to classroom behavior, how is that monitored and who will do the monitoring? Behavior goals will need to be discussed between parent and ESE teacher, to make sure the goals in the IEP are relevant for the home setting. If they are not relevant in the digital setting (for example-positive interaction with peers, initiating social interactions with peers, refraining from physical aggression with adults and peers, etc.), they may not need to be addressed during an interruption to the physical classroom. If they are relevant, then the ESE teacher and parent will discuss a monitoring plan. Academic progress can be monitored by both general educator and ESE teacher, based upon how the academic progress is being monitored for the entire class, with modifications as needed. Most ESE students can use the same assessments as non ESE students, while others would be given the progress monitoring assessments included within the alternative curriculum materials appropriate for the student.
How will my child interact and build relationships with his peers?
During the Digital Academy timeframe, the school sponsored interactions will be limited to google classroom/chat/Zoom activities. Whole class activities can be hosted through these platforms.
How are face-to-face services such as speech, language, OT and PT provided?
Therapies, as specified on a student's IEP, will continue on a google chat and/or teletherapy platform that was established during the spring interruption to physical school. We have found that such sessions may need to be broken up into smaller time frames to accommodate a student's online school schedule (for example, two 15 minute sessions per week instead of one 30 minute session).
How will you offer ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages Services) in the digital Academy?
As instruction is provided in an online format, so will the accommodations and related services be provided to ESOL students participating in the Digital Academy. Accommodations will be provided in the subjects and activities as outlined in a child's ELL Plan, although they may manifest a bit differently due to the distance learning aspect of this option.
How will my ESOL child be assessed and how will progress be monitored?
As always, teachers and school administrators will review the most current ACCESS for ELLS 2.0 student reports in developing each student’s English language acquisition goals for the coming year. Academic progress can be monitored by the teacher, based upon how the academic progress is being monitored for the entire class, with modifications as needed. ESOL students can use the same assessments as non ESOL students.
Health and Safety
Are students/staff required to wear masks?
Yes, face coverings are required for all students and staff, with some limited exemptions. The district’s policy on Facial Coverings is available here.
What sort of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) is being used in schools?
The district began stockpiling PPE since the epidemic began and continues to order more as the need arises. The district has already purchased hundreds of thousands of items including masks, face shields, gloves, no-touch thermometers, gowns, shoe covers, wipes and even more specialized PPE for those situations in which they may be needed, such as interactions with medically fragile students.
There are hand sanitizing stations in all classrooms, school buses and in other locations throughout each campus and worksite. The district has purchased tens of thousands of desk shields and other barriers. The district also purchased specialized cleaning equipment and supplies for COVID-19.
Are you testing students/staff for COVID?
The district has testing protocols in place that were developed in collaboration with the Alachua County Health Department and the Scientific Medical Advisory Committee (SMAC), made up of medical experts from the University of Florida. Those protocols specify the steps that need to be taken if a student or staff member tests positive for COVID, exhibits symptoms or has had significant contact with a COVID case that includes testing provided by the Health Department. For a student or staff member exhibiting symptoms at school, the school nurse is also able to conduct a COVID test. Specific information on the protocols regarding students is available here. Protocols for staff are available here.
Protocols are revised based on new guidelines or changing circumstances.
To take advantage of free testing offered by the Health Department to students who have had significant exposure to a COVID case at school, parents must complete a consent form, available here. Schools and/or the Health Department will notify the families about when and where the testing will be available.
Are you taking everyone’s temperature?
Yes, students and staff have their temperatures taken at the beginning of each school day. All teachers have been provided with no-touch thermometers. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 or above will be directed to the school nurse for evaluation.
Are you limiting the number of students in each classroom? How are you promoting social distancing in schools?
With the online options available to families, the number of students attending in-person classes is at about 60% of what it was during the 2019-20 school year. Of course, that is likely to change depending on the course of the pandemic locally and other circumstances, such as the availability of a vaccine.
The district’s goal is to provide as much social distancing as possible. Classrooms have been rearranged, furniture removed and barriers put in place to promoting distancing/separation.
Based on each school’s unique characteristics, particularly the layout of the campus and the number of students, school staff have implemented strategies to promote additional distancing/separation, including specific flow paths in hallways, staggered class changes, etc. Non-essential visitors and protocols for essential visitors are also in place.
What if there is a COVID case at a school?
The Alachua County Health Department and the SMAC review all cases on a daily basis and work with the schools and district on identifying and contacting anyone who may have had significant contact with someone testing positive for COVID. As indicated above, the district’s protocols for addressing a positive COVID case were developed in collaboration with both groups, and are updated as needed. Under those protocols, the school notifies the families of all students and staff of a positive case, even those who have not had significant contact with the positive case. Under federal law, the person with the positive case cannot be identified.
Deep cleaning/sanitizing of facilities are carried out as appropriate, and the district consults with the Health Department and SMAC on any additional steps that may need to be taken based on the circumstances of a particular case.
The SMAC has developed metrics for determining if/when a classroom or school may need to be shut down due to COVID-19. Those metrics are available here.
How are you going to keep schools clean and sanitized?
Each classroom is cleaned with a CDC-approved cleaning agent before and after school, including desks and frequently-touched and other hard surfaces (door knobs, light switches, faucets, etc.) Classrooms are also sprayed each afternoon with a CDC-approved products. The same protocols will be used for offices and clinics.
Cafeterias, including walls up to approximately 6 feet high, are cleaned using the same protocols as often as possible, depending on student flow and traffic, but definitely after breakfast, after school and after extended day programs.
Hallway walls are also cleaned up to approximately 6 feet high as often as possible, but at least daily.
Restrooms are cleaned and sprayed with a CDC-approved cleaning agent as often as possible depending on usage, but at least daily.
The district purchased specialty equipment and products for cleaning and disinfecting, including Bissell electrostatic sprayers and heavier-duty electrostatic machines, which can clean a larger area more quickly, easily and effectively.
Custodians have been trained in the use of this equipment and other cleaning/sanitizing protocols. In some cases, the district also uses outside vendors to do cleaning/sanitizing.
COVID-related signage is posted throughout our schools, including at entryways and in classrooms, with information on preventive measures, school/district protocols, good hygiene, etc. Students and staff receive frequent reminders about prevention measures (handwashing, proper use of masks, etc.)
How will you promote health and safety on school buses?
The district is limiting the number of students on buses to the extent possible. This requires running buses more often. Students are seated beginning at the back of the bus and moving forward to limit contact. Siblings and other students from the same household are seated together.
Bus drivers and aides have been provided with PPE. Hand sanitizing stations have been installed at the entrance of each bus. Students will be strongly encouraged to wear masks, and masks will be made available for students who need them.
A CDC-approved disinfectant is used to clean surfaces after each run (morning and afternoon), including handrails, seat backs and fronts, windows, window handles, etc. Exterior surfaces such as entry door hardware, mirrors, etc., are also wiped down. Buses are sprayed with a CDC-approved disinfectant after the final run of each day.
If a student, driver or attendant becomes ill on a bus or there is a report of a positive COVID-19 case (including asymptomatic cases), the bus is removed from service and undergoes a deep cleaning and sanitizing process.
Drivers have been trained on proper cleaning and disinfecting, proper use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), etc.
What's the plan for mealtimes?
To the extent practicable, food service staff have marked floors to promote spacing and control the flow of students into the cafeteria. Self-serve options are individually packaged, and menus have been revamped so that meals can be provided in closed containers unless the meals are served and handed directly to the student. Customization bars have been eliminated during this time.
Products like utensils, condiments, etc., are provided in individually-wrapped packaging, disposable plates and utensils are used, etc. Students are placed as far apart as possible at cafeteria tables and are also seated at outdoor spaces. Handwashing before and after meal service is promoted.
Plexiglass barriers have been added in the cashier area of the serving line. Staff working at carts have been supplied with full-face protection shields and are also be required to wear a mask.
Food Service staff wear masks and gloves. They are trained (all are certified in ServSafe) on proper handwashing and glove use.
What happens if a student or staff member gets sick at school?
Alachua County Public Schools is fortunate to have nurses on duty at every Alachua County Public School. They are an essential part of the district's efforts to promote the safety and well-being of students and staff.
As shared earlier in this document, the district works with medical experts at the University of Florida and the Alachua County Department of Health to update protocols for addressing positive COVID-19 cases, exposure to positive COVID-19 cases and people who have COVID-like symptoms. Student protocols are available here, staff protocols are available here.
Those protocols outline the potential symptoms of COVID, how families and staff will be contacted, how long they will need to remain out of school/work and under what conditions they may return.
It is critically important at all times, but particularly during this pandemic, that those who are sick STAY HOME.