What started as a small Facebook group comprised of parents worried about the implications of reopening schools during the coronavirus pandemic has become a collective voice of opposition. With more than 3,100 members, the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team has been able to consistently share information and updates, plan rallies, and call for action.
The idea for the group began after the release of the Duval County Public Schools’ preliminary back-to-school plan on June 23. In response, Marla Bryant, a parent of an incoming DCPS, reached out to parents who have served on different DCPS task forces over the years and asked them for their thoughts regarding the plan.
“After texting back-and-forth about [the plan], we decided to do a Zoom call that Saturday morning. At that point, we decided to form the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team, launching our Facebook page that Monday, June 29,” Bryant said. “From the start, we knew that we needed to band together and get like-minded people to also voice their opinions about returning to school.”
Through this approach, the group quickly grew in numbers and has harnessed attention from local and national media outlets, as well as sparked conversation with Duval County Public Schools’ leaders directly. Now one of nine founding group members, Bryant says she recognizes that there is likely no single solution to the return-to-school issue that will make everyone happy.
“I think the DCPS superintendent and school board are trying to do the best they can to make everyone happy, but in reality, there’s no way to do that,” Bryant said. “They want to deliver school in every form imaginable, so that people who have to turn to the brick-and-mortar buildings for a variety of reasons, such as home situations, can.”
However, Bryant said the group’s worry is that the children who do need to return to the physical school location will lose out in the end as they will become the most susceptible to the virus. In addition, the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team has partnered with another Facebook group formed by district teachers, Duval for a Safe Return to Campus, to help ensure their safe return to school as well.
Since holding their third joint rally last month, the latest called “A Day of Action Against Inaction,” Bryant says the group feels strongly that it has helped ignite change.
For example, the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team advocated that Duval HomeRoom be extended to all K-12 students, and also urged district leaders to allow magnet school students to be able to keep their spots should they choose a remote option. Both requests were approved by DCPS. The group also had pushed for a later start date for school because of the now-cancelled Republican National Convention in Jacksonville; the district delayed the first day of school from August 10 until August 20.
On Monday, the plan to reopen Duval County schools on Aug. 20 was approved by the Florida Department of Education.
“We’re really excited about some of the things that we’ve achieved, but there’s still more things that we want the district to do to make returning to school safe for everyone,” Bryant said. “We want 100% online instruction the first nine weeks, since our numbers [were] so incredibly high [in late July] and will continue to be over the next few weeks.”
Both groups are still calling for there to be two full weeks without any positive cases in Duval County prior to students and staff returning to school buildings and that masks be added to the DCPS Student Code of Conduct as part of the dress code violation for noncompliance.