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Monroe Co. Developing Phase Plan For Start Of School In The Fall

FLORIDA KEYS (CBSMiami) - With South Florida school districts grappling on how to reopen schools in the fall, Monroe County has come up with a flexible phase response.

In a draft plan titled "Guidebook for reopening schools", incoming Superintendent Theresa Axford says representatives from the school district, the health department and members of the community have come up with a plan to serve Keys kids in three different scenarios: minimal exposure in the community, moderate exposure, and substantial exposure.

"None of us can accurately predict what will happen with the Covid-19 virus between now and the opening of school in August," she said. "But we have to be ready to go anyway. So, we convened a large group to look at how we will respond to each possible iteration. And by doing this as early as possible, we are able to communicate this to the rest of those affected so they can, in turn, make appropriate plans."

Going into the school year, the level at which schools can reopen will be determined by both the school superintendent and the local office of the Florida Department of Health.

Minimal Community Exposure

Minimal exposure in the community is defined as isolated cases with limited community transmission and case investigations with no evidence of exposure in large community settings.

Under these circumstances, all students would return to school except those whose parents choose to keep them enrolled in a virtual environment at home.

The plan for this phase includes teaching in smaller groups of students to ensure social distancing, which will require identifying additional classroom space and instructional staff. Grouping students in "cohorts" which would stay together for various activities during the school day. The use of these smaller "cohort" groups would limit any potential virus exposure which might happen within schools.

Developing schedules which allow for the minimal amount of student movement, and safe movement of students when necessary. This will include changes in cafeteria schedules and operations if necessary for safety.

Moderate Community Exposure

This phase is defined as "sustained transmission with the likelihood or confirmed exposure and potential for a rapid increase in cases.

In this phase of exposure, students in Pre-K through Grade 5 will attend face-to-face instruction every day. Class sizes will be reduced and may require schedule adjustments to ensure CDC guidelines are being followed. Grades 6-12 will use a schedule of alternating days to reduce numbers. These students will attend school every other day on a staggered schedule and will have virtual school on the alternating days.

All of the social distancing and cleanliness concerns of the previous phase will remain in place and in some circumstances will be more stringent. In this phase, meal service may be substantially changed to include students eating in the classroom instead of the cafeteria to reduce movement around the school and to enforce social distancing guidelines.

Substantial Exposure

This phase is defined by large-scale community transmission.

In this phase, schools will be closed with students self-isolating, attending full-time virtual school. Meal service will continue. Cafeteria staff will prepare meals and transportation staff will deliver them to centralized locations throughout the Keys where families can pick them up.

No matter what phase of exposure the community is in, virtual learning will be available to all families and students who need or want to remain at home due to health concerns.

"This is new for all of us," said Axford. "We will all have to be as flexible as possible while keeping in mind our main goals: keeping our kids safe, and providing them with the best education under difficult circumstances."

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