Diocesan Catholic schools opening Aug. 17

Comprehensive plan addresses protocols

With the input of teachers, counselors, and principals the Diocese of Venice Department of Education has completed the school reopening plan and Aug. 17, 2020 is the date all Diocesan Catholic Schools will open for the 2020-2021 academic year.

In addition, parents are being provided the option of allowing their child to participate in synchronous at-home learning, whereas a student logs in from home via a computer for a live-stream option that follows his or her same on-campus classroom instruction schedule.

The announcement of the opening date and school options were delivered to Catholic School parents through a letter dated July 24, 2020 from Diocese Superintendent of Catholic Schools Father John Belmonte, S.J. With an emphasis on safety, the letter states the original start date (Aug. 10, 2020) was pushed back by one week to give school principals and teachers needed time to prepare for a safe start to the school year.

“Reopening our schools was an evolving process that has required careful planning,” Father Belmonte wrote. “The plan includes the guidance and recommendations from the Florida Department of Education, Florida Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Father Belmonte continued. “It attempts to augment and clarify how and when these guidelines relate to our Catholic schools. Rigorous cleaning and sanitizing protocols, requirements for face coverings and social distancing, resources for school leaders and a dedication to the best Catholic education possible are found in our reopening plan.”

In addition to the letter, a “Summary Guide for Students, Parents, and Their Families” and “Quick Reference Guide for Parents” are on the Diocesan Education website (www.dioceseofvenice.org/education). The documents outline how every school will maximize the health and safety of persons on campus while mitigating risk and community spread as they move into the academic year. Each principal has also produced an individual school plan that covers specific details of his or her respective campus.

As noted previously, all Diocesan Catholic schools will offer an alternative at-home learning opportunity for students in high risk populations. Those who have chosen synchronous at-home learning, do have the freedom to switch to traditional face-to-face learning during the school year. Those decisions will be made with the school principal. In addition, if a student needs to quarantine at home, this at-home learning option will be available to that student until he or she can safely return to school.

“For the trust you place in the Diocese of Venice by enrolling your child in a Catholic school, know that we are humbled and grateful,” Father Belmonte wrote. “Your child and his or her well-being is of great importance to us. We know of their desire to be in their social milieu and our survey confirms your wish to see them back at school.”

Father Belmonte added that during “the past four months, we have learned in a deeper way, the value and importance of our Catholic schools. Our Catholic Faith teaches us that it is Christ who is the reason for our schools. As we open this fall, recall that we teach Christ Himself. It is Christ who teaches us, rescues us, saves us, redeems us, heals us, unites us, forgives us, and loves us. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. In preparing to open our schools, let us remain focused on Christ who is the reason for our schools, the reason we teach, and the reason why we will gather, prudently and safely in the Fall.”

Please check with your local Catholic school website for specific reopening guidelines. In addition, the Diocese Department of Education will be providing relevant updates on its website at www.dioceseofvenice.org/education.

Catholic Schools planning for reopening

As the 2020-2021 academic year fast approaches, planning is taking place at all levels of the Diocese of Venice to ensure that Catholic schools open in August. Everything is being done to ensure the health of all students, as well as of the faculty and staff.

The complexities of this task are monumental, and all options are being considered, explained Father John Belmonte, SJ, Diocese Superintendent of Catholic Education. Parents will be notified as soon as all plans are formalized.

With Christ being the reason Catholic education exists, Father Belmonte cited St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (8:38) which states that nothing, not anguish, distress or peril, should separate us from the love of Christ. “As we prepare to reopen our schools, let us remain focused on Christ who is the reason for our schools, the reason we teach, the reason why we will gather, prudently and safely, in August.”

The process to reopen has involved the close work of the Diocese Office of Education with the principals, School Boards, and advisors involved in a variety of fields, including medical professionals.

School principals sent out a survey to parents about whether the families want the schools to be in-person, distance learning or a combination of both. As much of the feedback as possible is being integrated into the reopening plans.

Father Belmonte explained that parents and students should expect to see significant changes at the schools, including how the students interact during the day, specifically in the classrooms, in the hallways and outdoors. There will also be options for enhanced distance learning. Father added that while an increased number of COVID-19 cases is a factor in the planning process, it should be remembered that it was always understood that the virus would still exist when schools reopened.

What is different now, Father Belmonte explained, is that the world, including the Diocese Catholic schools, have learned many valuable lessons from the Pandemic and that taking specific preventative measures will mitigate the risks for the students, faculty and staff. At a minimum, this includes wearing face coverings, extensive hand washing, social distancing and more.

For example, St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Fort Myers has installed touchless water fountains, similar to those found at many airports, where someone can place a water bottle under a dispenser and it automatically fills without the student ever touching a surface. Incarnation Catholic School in Sarasota is installing new carpeting in classrooms and repainting many areas, all to include materials which make it easier to disinfect each day.

While all schools were forced to enable distance learning in March, much has been learned from that experience. Therefore, as the next semester approaches, educators have a newly developed distance learning program available until parents are ready to send their child back. The plan will surpass standard programs that are just assignment based. The program will include teaching and direct access to the teachers, and no more waiting or wondering when the teacher would be in contact.