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Local Schools Plan For A Longer Shutdown

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Local school districts are making plans on the fly as the response to the coronavirus continues to evolve. If there was any good news for local school superintendents it’s that this week was already a scheduled week off for spring break.

"The plan was always to use our custodial staff this week to completely deep-clean all the classrooms,” said Escambia County School Superintendent Malcolm Thomas.

“We’re going to continue to do the deep clean, not only on facilities and classrooms but also school buses. So that by the time we are able to return to school on Monday, March 30, that’s the plan at the moment, we should be in good shape, schools will be clean and ready to go.”

The plan was for schools in Escambia County to reopen after spring break, but a mandate from the State Department of Education pushed that back to March 30.  

In Santa Rosa County, Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick says they will also be getting the clean treatment.

“Absolutely. We started that work this morning, and we’ll do a deep clean of each classroom. We had been doing twice-daily cleaning of all buses and we will continue that as well. So each school, room by room and hallway by hallway will be deep cleaned.”

One question schools districts are beginning to deal with is getting food to students who rely on free or reduced breakfast and lunches from their schools.

“Yes, our intentions are beginning the 23rd to have some food options for students who do not necessarily have them at home. That’s important” said Wyrosdick. He says they are working on some out-of-the-box plans to get meals to students, including having them pick up the meals at schools and also having some meals delivered. “We are going to be somewhat innovative in using our bus transportation systems for delivering meals where needed to all communities (in Santa Rosa County). We are also multiple, and I mean multiple individuals and groups across our county who, on a daily basis, feed children, and we are organizing that through our food services department.”

Similar plans are underway in Okaloosa County and around the state.

But before all the plans can be put into place, the federal government needs to issue waivers for individual school districts.

“There’s a process you have to go through in order to get federal reimbursement for the free meals that you’ll give away," said Escambia County's Malcolm Thomas.  "We’re in the process of completing those plans and completing all the paperwork that’s necessary. They’ve got to know who you are going to feed and what are the target groups in those communities. It will be similar to what we do in the summer, anytime the district is out for an extended period of time we develop a plan where we will go an offer food to some of the most impoverished areas in Escambia County. This will be similar. I suspect we will start at a slower scale, and if it looks like we’ll be overwhelmed we’ll be able to ramp up if necessary. And our plan would take a look at everything from what you do next week to what you do if this goes on for extended period of time.”

To meet the need statewide, the Florida Department of Agriculture is starting its Summer BreakSpot program early, which will provide free meals and snacks for kids at about 1,000 locations across the state. Some sites are open now, while others will activate in the coming days, to provide free meals to children under 18. The state has already been granted waivers by the federal government to begin the program early this year. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.