The Osceola County School Board unanimously approved a plan that will allow county students who want to physically attend school beginning Aug. 10 when the 2020-21 school year’s scheduled to start, the ability to do that.

It will be different, and not like when they last walked into a school.

If not, they’ll also be able to choose to conduct virtual learning through their school or the Osceola Virtual School.

It’s all part of the “Ready. Set. Start Smart” plan the Osceola County School Board unanimously approved Tuesday night.

You can see the entire plan – including how families can make their selection by July 15 here:

Superintendent Debra Pace said all three plans would be made available after 45 percent of families and teachers polled last month said they’d prefer to return to face-to-face instruction, and 30 percent said they’d like to go back to the digital learning from the spring, and 25 percent liked a blend of the two.

But with the American Medical Association giving guidance that, “Reopening schools this fall is an urgent national priority,” and that thanks to a “COVID slide” that 30 percent of student learning gains could be lost in reading if schools don’t reopen, and 50 percent in math, much energy was put into reopening the doors.

“The keys to our success will be our flexibility to adapt to changing conditions and in providing parents the opportunity to choose how instruction will be delivered to their child,” said Superintendent Dr. Debra Pace.  “We have put comprehensive plans in place to keep our students and staff safe and healthy as we welcome our students and teachers back to school and back to learning on Monday, August 10, as we are committed to providing every child, every chance, every day.” 

Working through its Back to School Task Force, which included health officials like doctors from the Nemours Children’s Hospital and Osceola County Health Department Director Vianca McCluskey, extensive precautions have been put in place to limit exposure and promote health and safety of students and staff.

“School is still more than a month out, but the district is the county’s leading employer,” Pace said.

Dr. Kenneth Alexander, part of the task force and one of the Nemours doctors consulted, said there are “more concerns for the the diabetic lunch lady than the third grader,” noting that children of elementary school age have proven to spread the virus less than other demographics.

If face-to-face instruction at school is selected, parents of students who are eligible for transportation will also register their child for a seat on a school bus at that time. Screening will begin at home — parents are asked to check for fever and symptoms, and keep students home if there are any.

“Perfect attendance is not a goal of this plan,” Pace said.

Students will wear face coverings on buses and through most of the school day (schools will provide each student five of them), except when working independently at their desks if there’s space. Hand washing and sanitizing will be encouraged frequently. School nurses will have a designated area to isolate any students or staff who present symptoms.

And, of course, as CDC guidance changes, or if there are virus flare-ups, there could be changes.

“The plan for today is the plan for today,” Pace said. “We are prepared to pivot to digital for a child, or a class, or a school, or the district, if necessary.

The option for digital learning at a students school would not be “Digital Learning Light,” as Pace called the 2-3 hours a day students spent online in the spring. This fall, students choosing that will spend 5-6 hours of live lessons per day, and 1-2 hours outside of “class” for reading or homework. It also leaves the flexibility for some face-to-face learning, and vice versa.

As for sports, particularly fall sports, they are still on schedule. Athletes are currently able to do on-campus conditioning drills with coaches. Spectators may be allowed at games at reduced capacity, but Pace said guidance is still coming on that.

While board members asked some questions of the plan, they were for clarity and not to poke holes in the plan.

“I’m confident we’ve put together the best plan possible,” Board member Tim Weisheyer said. “But as new data came in, keep in mind we had to adjust our graduation plans.”

“We know this will be a fluid situation,” Board member Ricky Booth said.

Board Chairman Kelvin Soto said the district will make parents and students aware of changes that need to be made.

“This Board and District will continue to be transparent,” he said.

Those who did not or could not view Tuesday’s meeting can see it on the district’s YouTube page for Board Meetings; it should be posted by mid-morning Wednesday.