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Lee County school reopening task force discusses new models

After the state’s directive for schools to have campuses open at five days a week for the coming school year, school districts in the region are reassessing their reopening plans for the fall, especially when it comes to safety guidelines they planned to have in place.

Masks were a hot topic at the Lee County school district’s reopening task force meeting Tuesday, as the District works to come up with the plan that now satisfies the Florida Department of Education’s emergency order for schools.

That order says all students must have the option to go to in-person classes five days a week, which is a game changer for school districts that already had tentative plans in place.

During the three-hour meeting, task force members discussed an additional online learning option. But the longest and most passionate discussion was about whether or not to recommend requiring or expecting masks on school buses, in between classes and in the cafeteria.

“I wouldn’t think the kids would leave [masks] on,” said Gracie Fernandez, who is the parent of an elementary student in Lee County.

“I don’t think I would even consider them going back without wearing [masks]” said Nekita Athime, who is the parent of a middle school student and a high school student in Lee County.

The reopening task force wants to require masks on school buses and during class transitions. They say they expect masks for large gatherings, such as in the cafeteria.

The task force says the emergency order by the state means the proposed hybrid model no longer works. So the task force discussed another model.

The “Lee Home Connect” model would allow students to pair with a teacher from their school for full-time, home learning. Students can do this option for as little as a quarter and then return to school with the same teacher in the same class.

“That sounds like a great idea, actually,” Athime said.

Some parents already have their minds made up on which route they plan to take this year.

“Just leaving them at home is the best for this school year,” Fernandez said.

“I just really think that they need to attend school face-to-face,” said Charlene Ruocco, who is the parent of a Lee County high school student.

Others say they are exploring any and every option for their children in the fall.

“I am actually not set on my decision yet,” Athime said. “I’m trying to weigh out the pros and the cons.”

The models on the table for parents to choose from are “Lee Home Connect,” Lee Virtual School, face-to-face learning and homeschooling.

The task force will present the recommendations they came up with to the Lee County School Board for approval at the meeting 1 p.m. Wednesday.

“It just seems like there’s not a great answer, and I’m hoping someone comes up with a better answer,” said Megan Kotanch, who is the parent of two elementary students in Lee County.

Reporter:Breana Ross
Writer:Jack Lowenstein
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