Collier County Public Schools held its opening of schools kickoff event on Wednesday as students are set to return to classrooms next week.
There are a lot of questions lingering as COVID-19 continues to surge throughout Southwest Florida.
Collier County Superintendent Kamela Patton said the school district has a lot of layers of protection in place for students, including limiting visitors, distancing in classrooms and during lunch, opening windows on a school bus and an emphasis on hygiene.
Two things you won’t hear about are masks and the vaccine.
Gianna Lucarelli, a sixth grader at North Naples Middle School, said she is happy she won’t have to wear a mask since it’s optional this coming school year.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has threatened to defund school districts that impose mask mandates for students.
“The masks were kind of weird,” Gianna said.
Others don’t like it at all.
“So being optional, you have a lot of parents that would say you must mandate this now,” Patton said.
Instead, the school district has another strategy. It will focus on a campaign of kindness to keep children from bullying each other over masks.
“I think we’re making sure that our kids understand kindness,” Patton said. “Whether the person has a mask or doesn’t have a mask on, we’re supportive of each other regardless. So we have messages going out soon. We’ll have public service announcements for an elementary level and secondary.”
Whether a teacher or a student is vaccinated is also not a priority, unless they’re somehow exposed to the virus.
“There are no separate rules based on vaccination. The only rule that would apply to that is that if someone went home for quarantining purposes, whether it’s a student or whether it’s an adult, if they do have a vaccination, then they do not have to be quarantined unless they’re symptomatic,” Patton said.
Patton said the school district is prepared to return to online schooling but only in a worst-case scenario.