With the new school year rapidly approaching, the St. Johns County School District is working tirelessly to prepare both students and staff for education amidst a pandemic.
Due to a surge of COVID-19 cases making Florida one of the top hot spots in the world, district leaders voted to postpone the start of school until August 31. The additional three-week deferment was intended to allow time for schools to build instructional schedules and provide an opportunity for the viral cases to decline, which peaked an all-time high of new cases at 15,300 on July 12.
Unsurprisingly, there has been much controversy regarding the state’s decision to reopen schools, from both parent and teachers alike.
Just last Monday, the district and teachers union reached a tentative agreement in the hopes to address the concern of teachers who fear both the danger of returning or possible job loss.
The agreement would allow teachers to take a “pause” during the 2020-2021 school year and return the following year to their same salary. It does not, however, guarantee their same position.
In addition, the district agreed to add three days of pre-planning for teachers in mid-August, before the official school start date. The addition intends to allow teachers to stay on their normal pay schedule despite the postponed start date.
For teachers unable to break from teaching for a year, the district agreed to allow full-time teachers to request to a St. Johns Virtual School if they meet the requirements and pass an interview.
According to Christina Langston, chef of community relations for the St. Johns County School District, the latest information shows about 1/3 of parents opting for education outside of brick and mortar schooling.
The most recent St. Johns County numbers show,
School-Based Brick & Mortar – 34,137
School-Based Distance Learning - 10,100
St. Johns Virtual School – 1,055
Home Education – 2,723
Previous state law requires around 18 students per class in grades k-2 and 22 students in grades 3-5. Despite a third of students enrolling in education outside of the classroom this year, an overcrowded St. Johns County school system might still see about 22 students per classroom.
As of last year, Palm Valley Academy had been installing portable classrooms to relieve overflow from an influx of new students arriving, with an estimated 2,000 students in k-8 grades. Currently, the county is slated to begin building a new school due to meeting the enrollment needed to justify another school in the immediate area. The school hasn’t been built, however, but the overcrowding has accounted for classroom numbers meeting capacity during the pandemic.
“So far, I’ve heard 22 kids per class,” said fifth grade Palm Valley Academy teacher, Rebecca Lake. “That’s 22 in each class I teach, and I teach two. I’ll have 44 kids around me but only 22 kids at a time.”