By Larry Savage |The Gainesville Sun| July 6, 2020
A YouTube video that began circulating during the Fourth of July weekend has picked up steam heading into Wednesday’s Alachua County Public Schools workshop.
The video’s nearly 3,000 views as of Monday are an indication of how nervous many teachers and parents are about the coming school year.
The video — “Alachua County K-12 Re-Opening Plan” — is critical of the school system’s draft plan, calling it sparse on details and suggests the plan is not original work but roughly “80% plagiarism” of Georgia’s plan.
Georgia’s plan, an effort of its state education and public health departments, was released June 1.
Thirty days later, ACPS released its draft plan. Georgia’s plan was 10 pages, Alachua’s 11, with nine of the pages extremely similar.
In it, the district offers families options, including in-person instruction, a Digital Academy, and enrollment in the Alachua eSchool. In the Digital Academy option, students would receive individualized instruction at home with live lessons. Alachua eSchool is an online program and the student’s study hours are more flexible.
But critics said some details were not offered, such as:
How are teachers supposed to maintain social distancing in closed classroom environments?
When happens if teachers get sick?
How will teachers use sick leave?
If a teacher gets sick and doesn’t have enough sick days, will their families and jobs be protected?
What happens if a child gets sick?
While several of those scenarios apply to in-person attendance, many families have questions about the online-education options, parents said.
“We have a lot of parents and teachers who are calling their schools and asking what are my options for next year,” said Sarah Rockwell, who recently, along with friend Cheryl Russell, formed the Alachua County Distance Learning Workgroup on Facebook. “My children are high-risk, and have the option to go online, but I don’t know how they will assign teachers to the Digital Academy.”
Carlee Simon, the narrator and creator of the YouTube video, is a member of the area’s education task force and is the daughter of teachers. She teaches online for the University of North Florida, and has three boys, two heading to high school and one to middle school.
She said she shared ideas within her group, but put together the 8-minute, 33-second video on her own.
“I’ve been making these videos and advocating for a while,” Simon said. “I’m concerned that they took someone else’s work, and didn’t put in the work. They did not utilize the university and other support that was available in the community. The lack of attention to this type of responsibility is not acceptable.”
Wednesday, the Alachua County school board will hold a 2 p.m. virtual workshop during which attendance options for the coming school year will be discussed and questions can be asked.
Rockwell said the similarities to Georgia’s plan don’t bother her as much as the lack of details.
“Dr. (Leanetta) McNealy was on record advising Mrs. (Karen) Clarke (school superintendent) to make up this committee to put together a detailed plan and here we are,” Rockwell said. “You have teachers and parents who don’t know what to do.”
Rockwell said teachers have until Wednesday to decide whether they want to teach in August. She said she knows single parents who must work and are worried because they can’t get answers.
Clarke released a memo about the video Monday afternoon, defending the district’s handling of the situation.
“In sharing the district’s draft plan with families, staff and the public, I made it clear that we had reviewed plans from other districts and states — some better than others,” the memo reads. “Unfortunately, there weren’t (and still aren’t) a lot of plans in Florida we could look at. A review of all 67 school districts’ websites shows that a majority have yet to publish a plan.”
Both Rockwell and Simon said Miami-Dade’s plan was much more detailed than Alachua’s.
Alachua County school system officials expect the plan to be finalized July 15, with schools scheduled to open on Aug. 10.
“It is a difficult situation and I realize this is an enormous responsibility,” Simon said. “The University of Florida and Santa Fe are going through very similar things. It is a great opportunity to work collectively because this is a serious matter.”
Clarke said district officials take the job seriously and understand that parents, teachers and students want answers.
“Sharing good ideas is something government entities do (or should do) all the time,” she said in her memo to the school board. “This is not plagiarism. This is a public school system learning from the best practices of other school systems, which is a common and common sense approach to meeting the needs of students.”
Alachua County Public Schools’ previous superintendent, Owen Roberts, resigned in 2016 after two years, amid allegations of plagiarism in his book “A Framework for Improving School Systems in the 21st Century.”
The contents of the book were not the only issues school board members had with Roberts, but several said it contributed to a lack of faith in his leadership.
Wednesday’s meeting will broadcast on the school district’s YouTube channel.
Simon’s video, “Reopening Draft Plan for Alachua County,” is also on YouTube.