By Elise Fisch
The Florida Union Free School District Board of Education held its first work session meeting of the new year on Thur., Jan. 7 at the S.S. Seward Institute to discuss the schools’ reopening for in-person instruction on Tue., Jan. 19 after the winter break.
The District will keep to its initial arrangement of having three instructional periods throughout the school year. Currently, Florida schools are in their second instructional period, the third beginning on Mon., Jan. 25. At the start of this period, just as at the start of the last one, parents will have the option of opting their children into in-person or remote instruction if they wish to do so.
This time, the District will not be sending out surveys to determine the numbers of families interested in making a change. Instead, the Board will have parents who are interested in changing their kids’ learning style to reach out with a request to do so before Jan. 25.
Principals Michael Rheaume and Deborah Lisack, of S.S. Seward Institute and Golden Hill Elementary respectively, informed the Board that each school will only be able to take in a handful more students for in-person instruction, as the buildings are at near full capacity while complying with social distancing measures. Both Rheaume and Lisack expressed that it was their shared belief that there would be more students opting out of in-person instruction this time around, as the number of coronavirus cases is still on the rise.
Going forward into the third instructional period, the Board has prepared its plan for on-site testing as required by the state. Though no mandatory testing has been implemented yet, Superintendent Jan Jehring believes testing of both students and staff will soon be required.
Smart Schools Bond Act
The District Director of Math, Science, & Technology, Dana Castine, submitted to the Board a case for the District to apply for the Smart Schools Bond Act (SSBA) in order to update and improve the schools’ computers and other tech. The SSBA, approved by voters during the general election of 2014, authorized the issuance of $2 billion of general obligation bonds to finance educational technology-related purchases for schools. In order to benefit, Districts must submit a Smart Schools Investment Plan (SSIP) and be accepted by the NYS Dept. of Education.
One of the most important updates Castine discussed in her presentation was replacing the “first fleet” of Chromebooks, which are currently being used by students and staff. The Chromebooks are an integral part of a student’s education, as they are the vehicles for remote instruction, and have been heavily relied upon by the District since the coronavirus quarantines began in March last year.
In addition to replacing Chromebooks, the funds could be used to patch and improve software, update cyber security, and replace desktop computers in the school buildings that are “long overdue” to be updated. Castine is currently working to prepare the SSIP on behalf of the district and is expected to have an application ready to submit to the State Dept. of Education by February or March.
The next School Board meeting will be held on Thurs., Jan. 21 at 7 p.m. at the S.S. Seward Institute, located at 51 N. Main St. in Florida, NY.