Gullett foresees ‘a different kind of opening’

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Posted August 14, 2020 | By Brad Rogers, Executive Editor

With Marion County Public Schools scheduled to start the new school year on Aug. 24, new Superintendent of Schools Diane Gullett told local children’s advocate on Wednesday that 2020 will be unlike any school opening we have ever experienced.

“Day to day, it will look very different operationally than it has before,” Gullet told the Marion County Children’s Alliance board. “We anticipate a different kind of opening.”

The “very different” will include mandatory masks, except when proper social distancing is possible; free masks and face shields for students and teachers to start; regular cleaning of desks and tables between classes; and fewer children in brick-and-mortar schools than in the past.

The reason there will be fewer students on most, if not all, campuses is because the School Board gave parents and students the option of either attending regular in-person school or getting instruction virtually online. As of now, Gullett said, about 70 percent of students are signed up to attend in-person classes, with the other 30 percent opting for online instruction.

But that is likely to change, the new superintendent said. She said as COVID-19 numbers continue to worsen in Marion County she anticipates more parents will opt to put their children in online classes “because it becomes more real.”

For now, teachers and support personnel are back on the county’s 51 school campuses undergoing a series of trainings, not the least being proper classroom cleaning and sanitization techniques and how to most effectively use the various online instructional programs.

She said administration officials are also preparing to deal with what is expected to be a significant number of students in need of mental health care. She explained that schools serve as “eyes and ears” that help protect children who are victims of abuse or neglect, and with schools having been closed for so long there are likely to be many students in need of help.

Circuit Judge Jim McCune, a member of the Children’s Alliance board, gave credence to Gullet’s concerns, saying, “My dockets are blown up with domestic violence cases.”

On a final note, on the day Sheriff Billy Woods announced that he would order his deputies to not wear masks, except in certain instances, Gullet said school resource officers will indeed be expected to wear masks when on duty in the county’s schools. And any students or teachers who refuse to wear a mask will be disciplined.

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