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Lee County School District tackles issues via Facebook Live

By MEGHAN BRADBURY - | Sep 22, 2021

Dr. Ken Savage

news@breezenewspapers.com

In an effort to answer parents’ questions, the School District of Lee County held another Facebook Live session Wednesday afternoon, addressing masks, safety measures, Florida Standards Assessment testing and more.

Masks

The first topic revolved around the district mask mandate that went into effect Sept. 1 and changed Sept. 14, providing parents with the opportunity to opt out. Superintendent Dr. Ken Savage said the district absolutely would implement the full mandate and not have a parent opt out if that option was fully available.

“We are still in the midst of a 30-day mask requirement. Masks are actually required and we expect students to wear them,” Savage said. “All we are simply doing is allowing for the opt out. We already had opt-out provisions for medical and for disability pieces. Then, to be compliant with the law, we have allowed for that parent opt out.”

He explained that the executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis, as it stood before, required an opt out, which the governor said was required due to a recently passed parental rights law.

“We will continue to have this opt out for the continued 30 days for staff and students. We continue to look at that data to make that determination to extend the 30 days or not,” Savage said.

A common question asked was why the sudden reverse of course on the mask mandate.

“Well, the main reason is while the science from our medical experts that we rely on, not just at the national level, but all the way down to our local level and our local system, unequivocally take stance that masks help make us safer as one strategy among many,” Savage said. “Others including vaccinations being the most highly recommended. Knowing that many of our students, specifically those under 12 years old, (cannot get vaccinated) at this time, it is so important to take all additional mitigation efforts, masks being one of them. We absolutely would implement the full mandate and not have a parent opt out if that were fully available to us.”

He explained that the challenge, unfortunately, with the court case was that once the appeal was filed, a stay went into place. The district thought they would still be OK, because the matter was unresolved at the court level.

“I am an executive and my job is to enforce the law. I am not a politician. I cannot make the law and am not empowered to do that. I have to follow the law and at the current time that is what we are doing. I strongly encourage everyone to opt in. It’s not about politics. This is about trying to save lives and execute safety policies within the letters of the law. I will not stop pushing for every safety mechanism,” Savage said.

He went on to say that there is a pretty strong robust scientific opinion that masks play a role in helping.

“They certainly would be mandatory if we were legally allowed to do so. If the law did allow us, I would continue to advocate for that. I am very much in favor of requiring masks during this stage,” he said.

Florida Standards Assessment

On Sept. 14, DeSantis announced a legislation proposal that would eliminate Common Core based, end of year, high stakes FSA testing. The proposal would create a new Florida Assessment of Student Thinking (F.A.S.T.), which is intended to monitor student progress, and foster individual growth.

“Florida’s education focus should be students’ growth and how we restore the conversation between parents and teachers in support of students’ growth,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis in a prepared statement. “In this final step to eradicate Common Core from our assessments, our administration is implementing the lessons learned from progress monitoring both during the state’s recovery and from our districts and schools that were already showing how we can better support students reaching their own unique growth goals.”

Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jeff Spiro said from his point of view, he applauds the governor and applauds his decision to focus on progress monitoring.

“It is what we are currently doing in our schools,” he said of data that drives instruction through small groups, interventions and enrichment. “It’s the most timely information that we have. This is really great for our students and our teachers.”

Savage said high-stakes testing became a huge part of grading schools. He added the education research is very clear that collecting information on students all year round is so important because they know how the students are learning.

“We don’t wait until the end of the year and find out how effective things were. By the time they take that test, was it even valid? Was it accurate? Was the child so traumatized and scared because of the implications of being retained in third grade that they don’t perform as well as they could have,” Savage asked. “I think the devil will be the details. How do we make sure that we are holding ourselves accountable? How do we ensure the information we get is reliable and valid and truly is something that gives us powerful information? There is a lot to be done here. I am cautiously very optimistic about it.”

Spiro said all testing requirements will remain the same this year.

“Legislation needs to approve the removal of FSA. This year, right now, changes nothing,” he said.

Teachers

Savage said the district is experiencing staff shortages across the board, which has been difficult because there are so many important positions that have to happen to make the school system run.

“Our teachers and support staff in the classroom, they, every day, put students in the forefront. They have to cover classes. It’s unbelievable the kind of conditions that we have to deal with. We are doing it for our children. When schools shut down, everything shuts down,” Savage said. “The hope is to get through this moment and time and continue to find creative ways in case this is not the end. This surge will pass, but then there could be another one. Hopefully not as deadly as the one currently.”

He shared his appreciation, especially of those school leaders.

They “walk into the face of unbelievable challenges and find a way to find that desperate last ounce of energy that they have to pull it all together to make it happen. They are our heroes,” Savage said. “I am impressed with our students. They have shown tremendous resiliency. They like to come together with their classmates. It is a privilege to be in the School District of Lee County and see the heroes that happen every single day. People are drained and tired. It doesn’t make it any easier to deal with the politics that we are dealing with.”

Savage said they are trying to educate children and keep people safe. He said he will focus on influence — influencing love among each other, as well as anything they can do to keep each other safe is his top priority.

“Come together as a community and not focus on political issues, but focus on keeping each other safe and let our community operate,” Savage said.

Spiro echoed his thanks for teachers, as this year has been most challenging, amplified even more than last year.

“Our teachers are focusing on social and emotional learning first, making sure our kids are OK before teaching and learning even occurs. Once we focus on academics, we are focused on standards,” he said. “Your child should see inside of their school — some of that intervention, Walk to Read, small group instruction, enrichment opportunities. We have Zoom tutoring available during the school day if the student is home, they can Connect with Lee. Standards are being taught. Interventions and enrichments are happening in our schools.”

There is also ESE and English Language Learners support as well using Connect with Lee.

Harns Marsh Middle School

Last week two Harns Marsh middle school students, 13 and 14 years old, were accused of plotting a school shooting. Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno said each would be charged with conspiracy to commit a mass shooting.

A teacher from Harns Marsh Middle School, who received concerning information from a student, quickly reported it to administrators. A map was found that contained markings indicating the location of each interior school camera and detectives learned that the students were allegedly attempting to learn how to construct pipe bombs and how to purchase firearms on the black market. Search warrants were executed and guns and several knives were found.

Safety, Security & Emergency Management Executive Director David Newlan said it was an unfortunate incident, one they do not want to have to deal with, but such things have become a reality these days.

“We have to make it known that there are zero tolerance. Those that break the law will be held accountable,” he said.

Newlan said it can be a very traumatizing incident when going through a scenario like that, but it shows that training the district has in place works. He said they are in constant communication with law enforcement agencies they partner with.

To have standardized procedures and processes in place are very important because everyone has the tools that are required to respond to an incident.

“We will continue to do training to make sure our students are well protected,” Newlan said.

It is important to always look at yourself and evaluate how you are doing and can things be made better, he said. As a result, additional safety measures have been put in place.

There are panic alarm systems in every school and every building, which allows 9-11 to be called with just a hit of a button. The process expedites law enforcement response and staff on site gets notified immediately of what to do, when to do it, and where the incident took place.

Another protocol put in place is Navigate 360, which Newlan said helps keep track of what schools students are attending in a searchable database. He said if a student transfers to another school, they have that information, as well as the history of that individual.

In addition, the hotline, See Something, Say Something, also is being used by law enforcement, so a person can remain anonymous when reporting something.

Newlan said they want to make sure kids are safe while the district is providing the best quality education at the same time.

Volunteers in the school house

Spiro said the pandemic team is constantly looking at numbers to determine if they can open the doors to volunteers once again.

“We very much want to get volunteers back in the schools. We need your help,” he said. “We want to get you back there as soon as possible. Stay tuned for that.”

Homecoming

Spiro said at this moment the homecoming dance has been postponed, as the community is in a pandemic surge currently. When those numbers decrease, the district will provide an opportunity to have the homecoming dance.

“The dance has been postponed and hopefully we will have it at a different time,” Spiro said.

Schools, however, will still having spirit weeks and festivities for homecoming.