Duval County superintendent provides update to COVID-19 protocols ahead of the new school year

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Next Tuesday, August 10th, students in Duval County will be going back to school, in-person.

This comes following a year full of challenges presented by the pandemic and concerns from parents -- about health and safety.

Our local hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, some even reaching capacity, in their respective COVID-19 wards.

This morning, Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Diana Greene held a press conference to discuss COVID-19 safety measures.

Action News Jax Courtney Cole went to the press conference, when Dr. Greene expressed she, along with Team Duval, plan to do everything they can to keep students and staff safe.

Governor Ron DeSantis signed an Executive Order to prevent school boards from mandating masks.  But Superintendent Greene is still strongly encouraging masks on school buses and indoors.

She is also urging everyone who is eligible, to get vaccinated.

As a parent with three kids in the Duval County Public School system--Lyloni Santiago said she thinks it’s too soon for the school board to welcome students back, in-person.

“My kids are going to be wearing masks! I’m really not comfortable with it at all, especially with this new strand out,” Santiago told Action News Jax Courtney Cole.

According to DCPS: 128,206 students are projected to be enrolled. This number includes charter schools.

Courtney Cole: “Are there concerns about how many teachers did not come back from the last school year? Are there going to be enough teachers and substitutes to begin this new school year?

Dr. Greene: “We are concerned, because this variant definitely has been moving through, not just our community, but communities across Florida very quickly. And right now we don’t know what impact that is going to have. We maintain an eye on our vacancies, we maintain an eye on how many employees have to be quarantine.”

Cole reached out to DCPS for an exact number of teachers and substitutes available for the 2021-2022 school year. One of the spokespeople for the district said they’re working to get that number.

Dr. Greene also told Cole district personnel is prepared to step in as a substitute teachers when necessary.

“We just recently got over COVID-19 a couple of weeks ago. And, I mean we have been careful. So, I’m actually really nervous about putting my kids back into school. But I’m actually here [at the district headquarters] to do that, because my kids just aren’t getting the proper education from homeschooling,” Santiago explained.

It’s an issue many parents are faced with.

Here are the COVID-19 measures that will be in place in Duval County Public Schools:

  • Strongly encouraging students to wear face coverings on the school buses & indoors
  • Staff required to masks through September 3rd
  • Daily cleaning of high touch points will continue/spray of surface with anti-microbial spray
  • Implementing temperature checks, for elementary students only
  • COVID-19 dashboard will be published again on first day of school
  • Additional nursing staff/health aides for every school
  • Staffed isolated rooms for students exhibiting COVID-19related symptoms
  • Continued use of school bus, classroom seating charts
  • Free medical + mental Telehealth services provided for students

Dr. Greene also said they are working with the Department of Health to establish a vaccination clinic in every high school, beginning August 18th for students and employees.

Courtney Cole: “What percentage of Duval County Public school staff is vaccinated?”

Dr. Diana Greene: “We do not keep information, because they were not required to report. But we do believe a large percentage of our staff, of our educators are vaccinated.”

When it comes to proof of vaccination, Dr. Greene told Cole it will be based on the honor system.

Courtney Cole: “What is your message to families who are concerned about the lack of mask mandate?”

Dr. Diana Greene: “We are highly encouraging everyone to wear a facial covering. Our goal, again, is to ensure they can receive a high-quality education and as a school district, we’ve done everything to mitigate the spread of the virus. That we’ve put everything in place, that we are by law legally allowed to put in place. And then we are committed to finding the strategy that would mitigate the virus spreading in our schools.”

If a vaccinated student is exposed to COVID-19, Dr. Greene said: if the student is not experiencing any symptoms, they will be allowed to return to school as long as they wear a mask for 10 days. She said this is the guidance they received from the Department of Health.