Back to school: Five things to know in Okaloosa and Walton Schools

Kevin Robinson
Northwest Florida Daily News

School is back in session Tuesday, and this year both the Okaloosa and Walton County school districts are striving to balance protecting student health and promoting their academic success.

In Okaloosa County, the district has announced a return to "more normal operations" following school years that were drastically impacted by COVID-19. This year's operations will include a renewed emphasis on in-person instruction and activities, along with a continued focus on enhanced cleaning and sanitation regimens.

Walton County struck a similar chord in a note to parents, writing, "The top priority of the Walton County School District is to keep students safe and healthy as we transition back to normal operations this year. We are looking forward to the upcoming school year and are excited you are part of the team."

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

More from Walton:An 'EPIC' day: Walton School District celebrates high test scores, plans for new year

Both districts have released an array of information on school protocols, initiatives and resources for the new year. 

Here are five key things to know: 

Masks will not be mandatory in either district

Both the Okaloosa County and Walton County school districts released near identical Q&A documents for parents outlining what COVID protocols will be in place this year.

The document notes that masks will not be required in school or on buses, although parents are welcome to provide a mask for their child if they choose. Schools and buses will have a supply of masks available.

Other safety precautions will include filling stations and/or water fountains to fill up water bottles, signage to remind those in schools about social distancing and the use of hand sanitizer/washing of hands, and COVID-19 contact tracing as required by the Florida Department of Health.

The OCSD's document notes desk barriers will be available upon request by parents. The Walton County document makes no mention of desk barriers.

Online learning options

Distance learning options will be available in both districts, although they may not be as robust as before. 

In Okaloosa, the mySchool Online program, which blended online instruction with local curriculum from a child's home school and teacher, is not 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. First semester registration for grades K-5 is open through Oct. 1. Registration for grades 6-12 is open year-round, according to the website.

Similarly, Walton Virtual is the primary K-12 virtual option in the WCSD. Information about that option is available at https://wvs.walton.k12.fl.us/. Enrollment for the 2021-2022 school year is now closed, according to the website.

Bus routes for Okaloosa and Walton counties are available online

A list of bus routes is available at okaloosaschools.com/depts/trans/bus-schedules.

In Walton County, a list of bus stops and bus routes is available at infofinderi.com/ifi/?cid=WCS2FFW5Q8X5.

Both districts are using the Bus Bulletin notification system to alert parents and students when there are bus delays and schedule changes.

P.E. assistant Tom Ballard and pre-K assistant Carolyn Curran supervise the bus ramp at Mary Esther Elementary School last year.

Those who register for Bus Bulletin will receive instant notifications when delays or incidents affect a student's bus via the user's choice of text message, phone call and e-mail. All contact information is stored securely and will not be shared or sold, according to the districts.

For more information, or to sign up to start receiving notifications, visit https://app.busbulletin.com/login.php.

Sports and extracurriculars are back, fans

Currently, both districts plan to allow normal school activities such as field trips, athletic events and extracurricular activities such as band and choral concerts.

Parents will be able to volunteer in classrooms and chaperone trips this year.

The COVID-19 decision tree

The districts released decision trees for how parents should proceed if a student has close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID.

VACCINATED CLOSE CONTACTS

Close contacts involving asymptomatic (symptom-free) children who are vaccinated or previously diagnosed with COVID-19 within the past 90 days will not have to quarantine. Protocol for the individual would be to monitor for symptoms daily for 14 days.

Symptomatic close contacts should stay home and seek testing. If testing is negative, students can return when symptoms are resolved for 24 hours with no medication. If positive, notify Department of Health and stay home for isolation period as directed by DOH.

NON-VACCINATED CLOSE CONTACTS:

Asymptomatic (no symptoms) close contacts who are not vaccinated who choose to remain in school should:

  • Self-monitor for symptoms daily before school for days.
  • Wear a mask (recommended) and practice mitigation such as social distancing and frequent hand-washing.
  • Report to the school health tech/nurse at the beginning of each day for a wellness check for days 1-7.

Symptomatic close contacts should quarantine and contact a physician and the Department of Health for guidance.

State of the pandemic:Okaloosa's COVID-19 cases continue to surge. Many residents now getting a shot in the arm.

Students can return to school early with a documented negative COVID test taken between day five and seven after the close contact. From days eight through 14 after the contact, the student should self-monitor for symptoms daily before and during school, as well as follow mitigation practices.

Symptomatic students without a documented negative COVID test can return to school no earlier than 11 days after exposure to a positive individual, and then only if their symptoms have been improving without the aid of medication for at least 24 hours. Along with self-monitoring and mitigation practices, the student should undergo a daily wellness check with the school nurse each morning on days 11 through 14.

Students will be able to make up assignments they miss due to quarantine and absences will be excused with a doctor's note.