Stay home order shakes up Pasco finals, food service, board meeting

The district aims to keep people safe while also meeting needs.
Cassie Miller, Assistant Manager of Food and Nutrition Services, hands out pre-packaged meals at Fivay High in Hudson. District officials are looking for more workers to help with the service.
Cassie Miller, Assistant Manager of Food and Nutrition Services, hands out pre-packaged meals at Fivay High in Hudson. District officials are looking for more workers to help with the service. [ MICHELE MILLER | Times ]
Published April 3, 2020|Updated April 3, 2020

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ statewide stay at home order has led to even more changes in the Pasco County school district.

The district has canceled all its local final exams, leaving only Advanced Placement and industry certification tests left for the remainder of the year. Student grades will be based on their other coursework for the semester.

The School Board has ripped up its plans for its Tuesday meeting, moving to an almost completely telephonic session.

The transportation and food services departments have put out an all-call for extra help to distribute free meals to the county’s children. Many of the staff preparing and delivering the food fall into the over-65 and underlying medical issues categories.

And schools have shifted the way they’ll be conducting daily business, with everyone working remotely except for a few on Tuesdays, when the meals are served.

The main reason comes straight from the order, aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19. People need to stay home.

“We need to keep people safe,” superintendent Kurt Browning said.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the issues:

Finals are canceled. The move puts the district in line with the state decision to call off all Florida Standards Assessments and end-of-course exams. Several other districts, including Hillsborough County, have taken similar steps.

The goal is to remove the added stress on students, who are adjusting to remote schooling, and leave the focus on learning rather than on testing.

Meal plan needs help. The district will continue to deliver five days’ worth of free breakfasts and lunches to more than 30 locations each Tuesday. However, many of its cafeteria workers and bus drivers are either 65 and older, or have underlying medical conditions, meaning they need to stay home to protect themselves.

With more than 88,000 meals being served last week, the district expects similar numbers or higher going forward.

“We’re doing an all call to staff to see if they can come in and help us,” Browning said.

A telephonic public hearing. With the governor’s executive order, Browning was able to use his emergency authority laid out in district policy 0132 to waive the requirement that three board members be physically present for a business meeting. The board plans to go forward with its meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, including a public hearing on school boundary revisions, but most members are expected to attend by telephone.

The public will be able to interact with the board by phone, or by sending written comments. The meeting also will be broadcast on the district’s YouTube channel.

Board chairwoman Colleen Beaudoin, member Megan Harding, Browning and board attorney Dennis Alfonso still plan to be in the boardroom in Building 3, though, in case some residents choose to attend and speak, as was advertised may take place.

“I think it’s my responsibility as chair to officially preside over the meeting live feed,” Beaudoin said.

Office hours changed. Before the governor’s order, principals had planned to work from their offices along with a skeleton crew, as well as custodial staff who would complete needed projects. The new schedule has campuses closed and everyone working from home except Tuesdays — the same day the meals are distributed.

Parents who have concerns and need to meet with the administration will need to call in advance to schedule appointments, in order to maintain safe distances while still allowing for the district’s essential business operations.

Browning said he anticipated more changes might arise in the coming weeks.

“I know it’s tough,” he said. “But this is a really weird place we find ourselves in.”