Okaloosa Schools return to 'more normal operations' amid possible 4th wave of COVID-19

Kevin Robinson
Northwest Florida Daily News

Citing a need to balance students' physical health with their mental health and academic success, the Okaloosa County School District announced it will return to "more normal school operations" this year.

Toward the close of the 2019-20 school year and throughout the 2020-21 school year, the district adjusted many of its protocols to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some of those measures included developing more online learning options, enhancing cleaning and sanitization practices, and implementing masking requirements on school buses.

COVID in Okaloosa:With school year approaching, COVID-19 is again on the rise in Okaloosa County

From March 2021:One year later: Superintendent Marcus Chambers answers questions about COVID at Baker School

In a video message to parents from Superintendent Marcus Chambers and in a written Q&A guide released for parents, the district outlined what protocols will be in place for the upcoming school year beginning Aug. 10.

Masks will be optional in classes and on school buses, although there will be supplies of masks available to students who want them. Desk barriers will be optional but available upon parental request. The district also plans to offer on-site vaccinations clinics at to-be-determined dates.

Currently, the district plans to allow normal school activities to resume. Field trips, athletic events and extracurricular activities such as band and choral concerts will occur as normal. Parents once again will be able to volunteer in classrooms and as chaperones.

The mySchool Online program, which allowed students to take remote classes at their local school, will not be an option this year. Okaloosa Online, a K-12 Okaloosa County public school, is the district’s primary K-12 virtual option. Information about the option is available at okaloosaschools.com/schools/okaloosa-online.

Fourth-grade teacher Anna Cox talks to her students on the first day of school at Destin Elementary School last year. The Okaloosa County School District has announced it will return to "more normal school operations" this year.

At brick-and-mortar schools, enhanced cleaning and sanitization protocols will remain in place. That includes hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in common areas, water bottle filling stations, a continued emphasis on handwashing throughout the day, and routine disinfection of buses and shared spaces and surfaces.

In his video message, Chambers noted, "We've taken a three-pronged approach that focuses on your students' safety, academic growth and mental health. Each of these areas are critically important to the development of our students."

From January:All four Okaloosa County high schools rank among state's top 6 highest for COVID-19

P.E. assistant Tom Ballard and pre-K assistant Carolyn Curran supervise the bus ramp at Mary Esther Elementary School last year. The Okaloosa County School District has announced it will return to "more normal school operations" this year.

According to the OCSD, a recent survey of school districts across the country found that 74% reported multiple indicators of increased mental health stresses among students during the pandemic.

"In Okaloosa County, we have also seen learning loss among students who have been disconnected from school the past sixteen months," the district's Q&A document said.

The document adds, "Being in school is critical for the overall well-being of our students. Our plans for this year strike a sensible balance that emphasizes your student’s success at school while also being mindful of the steps we need to take to keep our school environments safe."

A student gets off a bus at Mary Esther Elementary School last year. The Okaloosa County School District has announced it will return to "more normal school operations" this year.

Chambers stressed in his video message that schools would work with parents of medically fragile students to develop individualized plans to ensure their health and safety.

The Q&A document includes guidance on what families should do if they come in contact with a positive COVID case or if a student begins exhibiting COVID symptoms. Students who miss class due to quarantine or isolation will be able to have their absences excused and make up their work.

The full document Q&A document is available at okaloosaschools.com/articles/2021/covid-2021-22SY.

Background:COVID-19 in Okaloosa County has become 'a pandemic of the unvaccinated'

School is set to resume while the country is seeing a resurgence of COVID cases and a possible "fourth wave" of the pandemic. 

Locally, the surge has primarily affected younger, unvaccinated individuals, according to the Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County. Since March, 285 Okaloosa residents or visitors over age 65 have been diagnosed with COVID-19, while 2,320 between the ages of 15 and 64 have fallen ill, according to a recent DOH-Okaloosa report.