Sanitizing, distancing top community concerns for opening Pasco schools

Some ideas might grow from the district’s plan to resume child-care programs later this month.
Regular hand washing will be required in the Pasco County school district's PLACE child care programs when they begin operating June 15. [Shutterstock]
Regular hand washing will be required in the Pasco County school district's PLACE child care programs when they begin operating June 15. [Shutterstock] [ Shutterstock ]
Published June 6, 2020

As the Pasco County school district drafts plans to safely open campuses for classes in August, nearly 11,000 parents and 4,500 employees have made clear the issues they want addressed for them to feel more comfortable.

They did not complete a survey, as several other districts have conducted. Rather, they submitted ideas through a “thought exchange” process that allowed participants to present concepts that others could then rank.

Related: Pasco schools seek parent, staff input on reopening

Topping the parent list of concerns was the need for cleanliness, sanitary practices and hand washing in the schools. In other words, the schools must have soap, wipes, hand sanitizer and other materials readily available at all times for easy access.

They also stressed the importance of having options for children, so families could decide between in-person and distance learning, for instance. Support was fairly evenly split between those parents saying they were comfortable sending their children back to campus (37 percent of respondents) and those who were uncomfortable (43 percent).

Among the smaller number of students who participated (269), more than half said they would be ready to return.

At the top of the school workers’ list was the need for adequate social distancing and limits on campus crowding. After all, they’re the ones that will be coming in contact with the potentially large groups of children who could be carrying COVID-19.

Related: Older school workers worry about virus risks if Florida campuses reopen

Their second priority was having a clear policy and procedure for what to do if someone comes to school with a fever, cough or other illness symptoms. That item was third on the parents’ chart.

The image of parents giving their children Tylenol and sending them off to school was an all too real worry for many who have seen such things in the past. They want to nip any spread of the virus in the bud.

District spokesman Steve Hegarty said the administration is taking these and other findings from the thousands of comments and rankings in the exchange, and working through specific ways to tackle them. The plans will include ways to handle bus rides, lunch time, classes and other aspects associated with school, he said.

The team also understands that, as proposals emerge, the district will have to be flexible with families and employees as they navigate changing circumstances. He expected a plan to be available by July 1.

One area that offers some hints on what the model might look like is the district’s PLACE child care program. It resumes operations at 20 schools on June 15.

Related: Pasco schools plan to reopen child care service in June

So far, PLACE has not drawn the numbers officials had anticipated. They were uncertain how many families would enroll before knowing the actual locations and safety protocols.

The district released those this week. They include:

• Testing the temperature of all staff and students who enter the facility. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees will not be allowed in until cleared by a doctor.

• Requiring all staff to wear masks.

• Sanitizing all shared equipment before and after each use. Sanitizing all frequently touched surfaces at the beginning, middle and end of each day.

• Barring all visitors from entering the centers. Parents will drop off and pick up their children in a car line.

• Staff and students will participate in regular hand washing throughout the day. Hand sanitizer dispensers will be available in several locations.

• Students will remain in designated groups, which will not mix and will practice social distancing.