An enrollment-based tally by the Flagler County school district shows that 4,278 of the district’s 11,500 students, or 37 percent, will be attending school virtually, the rest attending in person, at the district’s nine schools.
A June survey by the district had found that 28 percent of parents with children in schools intended to opt for remote education. But that was before Florida became the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, with covid-19 cases in Flagler tripling since, including numerous infections among children.
Of those choosing the remote option, 2,831 students, or 25 percent, have chosen the remote-live option, which entails daily instruction as if the student were in class, but seated at a computer at home and following class through a live stream. The student is expected to attend class and furnish the same amount of work as students in the classroom. Another 1,447 students, or 12 percent, will be enrolled in iFlagler, the county’s equivalent of Florida Virtual School. Those classes are not live. The student sets his or her own pace within a semester framework, with contact with teachers on an as-needed basis.
Rymfire Elementary expects the lowest in-person attendance, at 53 percent. Indian Trails Middle is at 56 percent for in-person attendance, and Buddy Taylor Middle School at 61 percent. Both high schools, however, expect 66 percent in-person attendance.
While it isn’t absolutely certain that school will resume on Aug. 24, after a two-week delay, the current plan is that school will open that day. It is also not clear what criteria the district will follow should it decide to go to all-remote instruction again, as was the case after spring break in the last school year.
School Board member Colleen Conklin attempted for the second or third time to find out what that criteria is–or would be–during a meeting of the school board Tuesday. Neither Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt could provide it nor was the school board willing to set it. The Flagler Health Department has so far refused to set a standard, deferring to school officials, even though school officials claim they will follow health department guidance.
Mittelstadt and the district are under state orders to reopen in-person schools. But that order was issued just before the major spike in cases, and in a haze of contradictory or absent guidelines, leaving districts to scramble for a way forward on their own. Mittelstadt’s approach has been to develop as many learning options as financially and contractually possible while navigating the shoals of uncertainty and leaving the door open to a possible deferment of in-person instruction.
“We have created a very nimble return to school plan, and we will be responsive,” Mittelstadt said. “If the conditions are not right on the 24th, we will vet all of that, bring it back to the board, and make a determination that takes care of protecting all of us. The end game here is, we need to provide instruction to our students, and I know that many of them need us back in the buildings, so we want to try to preserve that opportunity. I appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to work through this, and just recognize that it is ever-changing.”
As it had at its previous meeting, the board had heard during the public-comment segment a large number of anxious concerns, questions and doubt from parents about the reopening.
“We are putting the whole community at risk by reopening schools,” one comment read. “Teachers don’t feel safe. Most parents said in a
survey that they’re “very concerned” about sending their kids back to school. So why are we taking a chance on opening when we have the ability to do virtual school? This district isn’t ready to open. We can’t afford to have teachers, staff, and students to become seriously ill, or sadly, lose their lives. We need for our school board and the administration to consider the real risks of opening up our schools in the middle of a raging pandemic.”
What is the comprehensive plan for safety and school closure?” another asked. “For example, what is considered a cluster?” Neither the district nor the health department have provided that answer. Many questions an concerns were from faculty or other employees. Another wrote: “I’m afraid if we start face to face in a couple of days, it won’t last long and we’ll be back to virtual learning and teaching. Why not start virtual and have high hopes of returning face to face when we have less cases, numbers, and deaths.”
Remarkably, there wasn’t a single comment fully supportive of a return to school as projected by the district–or even questioning the covid data. That contrasts with the 63 percent of parents who have opted to send their children back to school in person. (See the full set of comments here and here.)
“The Department of Health is not going to give us a positivity rate, or 14-day average, hospitalization rate or death rate,” Conklin said. The health department is providing those numbers, but not tagging them to an actionable threshold for school openings. “So at some point we as a board and as a leadership team need to look at what the data say, and is there a particular threshold.”
Conklin agreed that opening schools provides “a number of health benefits to our students,” but she returned again and again to needing “data we can look at so we can separate as much as possible the emotion of it and look at the science involved in it.” She added: “Regardless of our own personal feelings on the situation, there are people that are concerned and they’re frightened, and we have a staff that is concerned, and they’re frightened, and they have a right to be validated, as well as the parents and the families. I think what we can do is respond in the best way that we can by acknowledging that, and then try to make sure that if we are offering that brick and mortar option, that it is as safe as possible as it could be.”
School Board Chair Janet McDonald has been pushing for reopening the schools and downplaying the severity of the pandemic. She did so again at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I know that a lot of people don’t like to hear good data, but there is data that there has been no covid transmission from a student to a teacher in the world, so–,” McDonald said, before Conklin interrupted.
“But Janet that’s what I’m talking about,” Conklin said, looking for clarity on the word data.
“I’m not going to have a conversation right now,” McDonald said, cutting off Conklin in turn. “This was stated as a piece of data. I let you have your statements. I would like to have other people who have a world stage have said these things. I think sometimes when we focus on the negative, we don’t have room for any positives, and the best thing we can do for ourselves is be healthy, make sure your immune systems are strong. We have an incredible on-board system that is self-healing if we allow it to be strong. And there are really important things we can do as a district.”
McDonald was referring not so much to data as to a single epidemiologist in England–Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at Edinburgh University–who got a lot of press on July 22 after making the claim that there had been not a single recorded case of a covid transmission from student to teacher. The statement was just that–an observation. It was not based on a study or anything more scientific than Woolhouse’s conclusions, though studies have shown that children 9 and younger are less susceptible to infections or to infecting others.
The most authoritative study to date on school-based infections was conducted in France in June, based on data gathered in late April, and finding no student-to-teacher infections. But the study was accompanied by numerous caveats, among them that it involved only elementary-age students, that several students and teachers had been infected just before school closed for vacation (then for lockdown, much as it did in Florida), though infection was attributed to home environments at that point.
Last week, however, the Centers for Disease Control issued a study of an outbreak at a Georgia sleep-away camp attended by 597 youth campers between June 17 and June 27, just weeks after Georgia, with great fanfare, had announced its reopening, with Florida following suit closely behind. All the campers were required to show proof of negative covid-19 tests before enrolling. “Most components of CDC’s suggestions for Youth and Summer Camps” were followed, according to the study.
But within days the camp started losing students and staffers to covid infections, and camp closed on June 27. Only 344 of the 597 people at camp were tested, so some cases may have been missed. Within that group, 76 percent were positive. “Attack rates increased
with increasing length of time spent at the camp, with staff members having the highest attack rate (56%),” the analysis found, a dramatic contradiction of the claim that there’s been no transmission from student to teacher anywhere on the globe, though it could be argued that camp is not a school (though camp is mostly outdoor, school is not).
“The report is likely to add fuel to an already polarizing nationwide discussion about whether sending children back to crowded school buildings is worth the risk, in large part because so little data has been available about children’s vulnerability to the infection and their ability to transmit the virus,” the Washington Post reported.
There are also reports of spiking covid cases in reopened child care facilities in California, among children and staff.
In Flagler, according to the latest health department pediatrics report on covid, 75 children 17 or younger have tested positive for the virus, out of 668 tested, a cumulative positivity rate of 11.2 percent–significantly higher than Flagler’s overall positivity rate of 7 percent. Twenty-six children in the state have multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a covid-related condition where, according to the CDC, “different body parts can become inflamed, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, brain, skin, eyes, or gastrointestinal organs.”
None of those details or references were part of the discussion at the board meeting of course, a discussion that took place at the very end of a very long pair of meetings that had clearly exhausted the participants.
“We hear a lot about the fears in our public comments and the counter to that is, the consequences of the extended school closures and not going face to face,” School Board member Andy Dance said. He said even “the beloved Dr. Fauci,” the nation’s top infectious disease expert, came out for face to face instruction–a bit of an exaggeration: Fauci’s statements in interviews has been more nuanced, pressing for reopenings of schools where possible but warning that children older than 9 are as infectious as adults, and a lot is still unknown.
In a town hall with teachers, Fauci said: “In many respects, unfortunately, though this may sound a little scary and harsh—I don’t mean it to be that way—is that you’re going to actually be part of the experiment of the learning curve of what we need to know. Remember, early on when we shut down the country as it were, the schools were shut down, so we don’t know the full impact, we don’t have the total database of knowing what there is to expect.”
Dance said the district has prepared as much as it could. “The wild card is making sure everybody is following the precautions so that in three weeks we’re at a level that it’s safe to go back,” Dance said. “I hear all the public comments as though it’s an easy decision. It’s very complicated because of the effects on children to stay out of that face to face. It’s a losing-sleep proposition at times,” with personal stories that “hit you hard.” He credited the administration in getting to the point where a safe reopening may take place.
Flagler County Students Enrolled in the 3 Learning Options for Fall 2020
|In-person||Remote-live||iFlagler||Total Students||Enrollment in May 2019|
|Bunnell Elementary||725 (67%)||230 (21%)||123 (11%)||1,078||1,160|
|Belle Terre Elementary||802 (61)||312 (24)||207 (16)||1,321||1,452|
|Old Kings Elementary||732 (63)||212 (18)||221 (19)||1,165||1,254|
|Rymfire Elementary||507 (53)||343 (36)||115 (12)||965||1,094|
|Wadsworth Elementary||615 (68)||191 (21)||93 (10)||899||954|
|Buddy Taylor Middle||613 (61)||225 (22)||169 (17)||1,007||908|
|Indian Trails Middle||524 (56)||273 (29)||146 (16)||943||920|
|Flagler Palm Coast High||1,684 (66)||654 (26)||218 (9)||2,556||2,534|
|Matanzas High||1,052 (66)||391 (25)||155 (10)||1,598||1,642|
|Totals||7,254 (63)||2,831 (25)||1,447 (12)||11,532||11,958|
I’m sorry but this article is biased. no positive for schools opening? Over half of parents at every school has stated they want a live in person for their child. They understand the precautions and chose that out of the three options?
Flagler County is really low end when it comes to its residents and in the St. of Fl. thats not good. Look at your has been leadership at all levels. When the BEST thing a Town has going for it is the Sheriff that alone should tell you something. All I can say is I hope for the sake of the children all is well this Fall.
Lil Bird says
I am curious what the change in district enrollment numbers are. Ie, what percentage didn’t select any of the 3 options and chose instead to independently homeschool or chose FLVS or like programs not affiliated with FCPS.
Lance Carroll says
Keep going, Colleen Conklin. Don’t back down.
Janet McDonald, please, just go home. Wait, before you do, please read your quote at a few funerals of individuals who DIED FROM COVID: “We have an incredible on-board system that is self-healing if we allow it to be strong.” I guess those that died just decided to become weak and give up, right? Or maybe they were just inherently weak and somehow unluckily unworthy of the powers you state to exist? Either is pretty bad. I think we have a few funerals going on here in Flagler you can show up at, and many, many more in the state.
I personally thank god for Colleen Conklin. She is possibly the single best board member, with the best reasoning, logic, and problem solving skills, that our kids have!!
Tell the teachers that if they don’t return to school they will not be paid, that will change their minds!
Palm Coaast says
As a former teacher, I’ll happily return as a stand-in until the schools can figure out their next move. Not saying I’d make it a permanent position. Even a temporary-in-person-educator is better than nothing.
I have no issue not paying them if they aren’t teaching. The issue is the BoE needs to make it a safe working environment. Publix is doing more for their staff than the BoE.
Julie, Might I suggest that you show up in her place. Show us all how brave and strong you would be in the face of hundreds of snotty nosed kids all trying to hug or hit one another, take their books or read their paper. Either way, if you are NOT in their shoes, opinions really aren’t relevant.
CB from PC says
Sounds like a behavioral issue which needs to be addressed by the parents.
That has already been done and some teachers are staying out without pay. Their safety, and their families safety is not worth what they get paid.
I think Flagler County should hold off opening schools until at least the end of September or October. Then see where the virus stats are and review again. I see other counties discussing their procedures on various TV news programs but Flagler has yet to inform teachers and others how things will be handled when they open. ( If a child, teacher, staff is sick etc.) My wife is a teacher in the school system and has no option available to her as a person over 65 and history of cancer to guarantee her social distancing and a clean work environment. I notice that during their meetings, they are sitting far apart from each other. Why can’t they guarantee teachers the same. If they can’t, wait to open the schools.
Plus, I can’t wait to vote Janet out. Wish it was this election. Talk about batty…
CB from PC says
So this means, excluding margin of error, that means 63% want to ATTEND SCHOOL IN PERSON.
And I guarantee a good percentage of the kids online will opt to go back in person once they see their friends attending in person.
I am sure the Teachers Union understands we live in a Democratic society where majority rules.
So get back in the classroom or find another job.
That’s assuming 1) that their parents have someone home that can attend to their at home learning and 2) that they don’t start showing up with who knows what for chronic, life long illness and disabilities as young people. We could be sentencing these young and their families to a lifetime of medical difficulties and medical expense. I don’t see anyone talking about WHO is going to pay for the long term effects of this that we are seeing in a good number of survivors. We need real time date. Relevant data. Instant testing, contact tracing, enforced quarantine. So fare we have none of that. Not in any meaningful way.
Lizbeth Stewart Alberts says
I truly support online schooling. Florida has hit over half-a-million cases not to mention the deaths of this nasty epidemic. If we have to practice safety and safe distance everywhere else, why shouldn’t it be in the schools as well. are our students going to wear masks for 8 to 12 hours a day depending on their school length and bussing? are they going to use hand sanitizer during every class? Is the school going to clean down everything including the desks in between classes? You can answer yes to all of those then yes schooling is fine but we all know the real answer here.
How the media “spins” everything to fit their personal view. the headline 37% opt for online classes. Why NOT put it out as 63% are for going to school in person???
For the same reason that if, for instance, we were reporting on an outbreak of some sort causing unusual absenteeism from school (not that we aren’t even now), the headline would reflect the absentee percentage, not those in attendance. The unprecedented point of note here is the proportion of students opting for remote instruction. We’re not writing press releases.
Go FlaglerLive ! says
Umm this is also the first school year start ever that anyone at all has even remotely hesitated about going back to school or was scared/worried/apprehensive to do so. That to me is news, sadly. I think FlaglerLive got the headline perfectly correct, thank you FlaglerLive!
Land of no turn signals says says
If Mittelstadt has a plan maybe she should let the teachers know what it is with only 5 days before they report to school.So far no personal safety supplies for teachers no masks,face shields,plastic barriers nothing.Where did all that covid 19 money go that the school district received?
Doesn’t compute says
Why do people who are not teachers say such things as: tell ‘em they won’t get paid if they don’t go back! Oh wait, you need someone to supervise your child because you’re sick of them hanging around and helping them with distance learning is beyond your capabilities. Hire a babysitter.
What is behind your default to nasty and uncaring so quickly?
Teachers are human beings. They have families either of which could have some type of invisible health issue. They could get COVID easily surrounded by a bunch of kids and they will bring it home to family members. Also, many parents will pick their kids up from school and go straight to the grocery store further spreading the virus to store employees and shoppers. In case you forgot, your own kids can catch it and be silent spreaders to You and your whole family. All 260 kids who attended that summer camp held in GA came down with COVID. I have a bad feeling about this. What will your nasty comments be when the first child or teacher dies?
Postpone in person school until COVID cases drop significantly or we get a safe vaccine.
Supervise our kids??No we need teachers to TEACH our kids. That’s what they went to school for. That’s what THEY chose to go to school for!!! They don’t have to go back to teaching. They can get another job! As parents we HAVE to go back to our jobs. To feed our kids and provide shelter for them. We did not go to school to teach them. We chose our own professions that have put us out here. Some of us have don’t have families in the area that can help. Before you judge us as parents and accuse us of wanting the schools to “babysit” our children, let me ask you…who taught your children? Would you or your spouse have been able to support everyone on one salary? Were you a 2 parent household? Did you get help from family? Or do YOU have the time to offer a family who might need help with their children’s education???? It’s easy to rake a parent over the coals but not as easy to help someone out??? Shame on all of you for talking trash about some parents.
Doesn’t compute says
Teachers went to school to learn how to educate children. They did not go to college to become martyrs in an experiment that could sicken them, land them in the hospital or worse. Your children can learn remotely from aforementioned teachers as I said, until the plague numbers have sufficiently dropped or there is a safe vaccine. Contact the Early Learning Coalition for referrals to childcare providers in your area. Also, calm down. I haven’t seen such an excessive use of question marks since Trump’s last tweet. Okay?!
Spouse of a educator says
Let me tell you arm chair quarterbacks something!! My spouse is a Flagler county teacher… I don’t know of one of her fellow teachers that expect to get paid, if they don’t teach!! SO KNOCK IT OFF!!!!! This isn’t the first time I’ve seen posts that say “If the teachers don’t wanna work don’t pay them” That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard!
CB from PC says
And how long were teachers paid while the schools were completely shut down in the Spring?
The reality is that teachers who had any doubts about returning to a classroom environment should have made plans for an alternative career by now. Now either get back to work or no paycheck. That is how it is in the Private Sector, and generally for anyone who is not on the Public Taxpayer payroll.
While I don’t have children that need to be educated, those who cruelly say that teachers should risk their lives and health and be forced to teach in an environment that has obviously NOT been made SAFE are despicable! Teachers work hard and certainly deserve every penny they earn. . . whether they are teaching on-line or in person.
. If only we had a governor, an organized “school board”, and principals that followed the guidance provided by MEDICAL EXPERTS, instead of politicians.
Geez, it’s not brain surgery. . . think outside the box. . . make a plan and present a budget to DeSantis and trump::
1. Provide every classroom teacher and school bus driver with a “face shield”. . . . those should have been ordered months ago
2. Require that every child wear (clean) face coverings except when eating and drinking. That includes while on a school bus. Disposable ones should be made available for those whose “dogs ate them”. . . along with their homework. :)
3. Desks, lunch and school bus seating should be placed 6 feet apart. Get creative and stagger classes, attendance days, lunch times etc.
4. Assess and then upgrade the school ventilation systems where necessary. . . . should have started on this months ago.
5. Upgrade janitorial services to include daily disinfection of ALL surfaces, including school buses and lockers.
6. Install a hand sanitizing station at the entrance to each classroom. . . where the teacher would inspect proper mask fitting and make sure each student sanitizes their hands before entering.
7. Stagger arrival and departure times for classes in order to lower the number of students in hallways at any given time.
Those are thoughts just from the top of my head. . . surely there are many, many other greater ideas, especially from teachers, bus drivers and parents.
Interesting article in reference the last two week of July over 100,000 kids tested positive for Covid. https://www.aol.com/article/news/2020/08/10/nearly-100000-children-in-us-tested-positive-for-covid-19-in-last-2-weeks-of-july/24587297/
It makes one wonder, how many of these kids that tested positive have already infected their parents or grandparents or other friends.