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Doctor, teachers question Marion County’s school reopening plan amid ‘Hurricane Corona’

Dr. Axel Martinez told Marion County School Board members that reopening the schools poses a health danger to the whole community. Image: MCPS via video

Teachers and a doctor specializing in treating the elderly raised concerns with the Marion County School Board Tuesday over opening the schools in August.

The board approved a plan to open Aug. 10, even as the county’s COVID-19 cases have more than quadrupled since the beginning of June.

The plan includes a traditional option, with masks on the bus, face shields in the classroom and social distancing. Or parents can opt for an upgraded program of online learning.

They have until next Wednesday to choose.

The plan has been a collaborative effort. Administrators, parents, board members, union leaders and even students on four committees worked on it.

It’s designed to educate kids — and open the schools — while keeping everyone safe during the pandemic.

At the meeting, some teachers doubted that is possible.  They voiced concerns for the safety students, staff and their families.

Dr. Axel Martinez said the coronavirus reaches vulnerable nursing home residents through workers in the community. Having kids in school will spread the virus there.

“And when they’re screened they’re negative,” he said. “But the parents are not going to be asymptomatic. The grandparents are not going to be asymptomatic. And then that spreads to the workplace. And then the workplace spreads everywhere else. So the decision is not just about the health of the kids. It’s about the health of the entire community.”

School Board Chairman Eric Cummings said the whole plan — even the start date — is flexible during what he calls “Hurricane Corona.”

“In the midst of a hurricane, you don’t just give up,” he said. “You don’t just throw in the towel. You keep on surviving. So what we’re doing now is surviving in the midst of a hurricane.”

Florida has ordered schools to open in August, but Marion County also has a plan in case they have to close again.

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Joe Byrnes

About Joe Byrnes


Joe Byrnes reports on aging-related issues for WMFE/WMFV. Please contact him at jbyrnes@wmfe.org. He came to WMFE from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after ... Read Full Bio »