An uproar occurred from the Deaf and Blind communities and their parents over the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind’s [FSDB] original 2020-2021 Reopening Plan. When FSDB first released the Reopening Plan on July 14, there was not an option for online distance learning; the child had to either go in person or disenroll and attend a different school. Parents of Deaf and blind children reported to First Coast News that they do not feel safe sending their children to FSDB due to COVID-19. 

While FSDB did respond to public inquiries about why they were not offering online classes as an option, parents reported not being satisfied with their answer. “We are evaluating our options and putting forth plans that protect the health and safety of our students and staff,” FSDB told First Coast News. 

Some parents were distraught over FSDB’s decision to not offer an online option and the fact that FSDB’s message was that if they do not agree with the options being offered, they can place their child(ren) in mainstream school programs. If it was that simple, many students would have already been mainstreamed as a FSDB mother implied in her interview with First Coast News.  

“If I wanted to mainstream my child then I would have done that a long time ago,” Charlene Eddy, the FSDB mother, said. “That was not my choice. My choice was for my son to receive an education through FSDB.”

Eddy’s son Jasen is blind, and he has been attending FSDB since he was three years old–the family even moved from Missouri for Jasen to have a quality and accessible education. 

Some FSDB Deaf parents sent feedback or concerns to FSDB and received no response. One issue parents and other stakeholders had with FSDB’s message was how it can be interpreted as downplaying the level of need for FSDB’s extensive educational and other services as a specialty for Deaf, DeafDisabled, DeafBlind, and blind students, as no other school in the state provides that. This can lead to severe disruptions in the provision of student services, as state funding is contingent on enrollment numbers.

Later into the afternoon on July 17, the same day First Coast News released their article, FSDB posted a Facebook update showing that after some reconsideration, they are now going to provide an online option:

The 2020-21 FSDB Reopening Plan is being updated to offer an option for those families who prefer for their child(ren) to begin the school year learning from home. Given recent guidance we’ve received from the FDOE, as well as feedback from parents about having another option, FSDB will now be offering both our on-campus (“brick and mortar”) program as well as a synchronous, learning-from-home innovative learning environment. More information and a survey was issued this afternoon to parents/guardians.

Although the lack of a distance-learning option is the main concern stakeholders had with FSDB’s Reopening Plan, other issues remain. Deaf Vee Journal reviewed FSDB’s Reopening Plan and it seems that the plan has not thoroughly addressed all existing and possible scenarios. Temperature checks and the presence of other possible COVID-19 symptoms are the hallmarks of FSDB’s screening process. What of asymptomatic cases, where students have COVID-19 but do not show any symptoms? Are there substitutes in place if teachers are sick? Are there back-ups if the teacher and the substitute for one class are both sick? Nowhere in the plan does FSDB ever mention any accommodations for DeafBlind students. Those examples are just some of the many scenarios FSDB needs to consider. (Click here to read it in PDF)

We contacted FSDB administrators to inquire. The questions we have sent are included below for your review.

  • There is no clear indicator of how many faculty/staff members or students must get sick for the school to go back to an online format.
  • What is the emergency plan when a student gets sick during the school year, particularly if the student is sick on campus or in the dorms?
  • Will there be a quarantine period prior to students being able to go to classes? 
  • The tactile needs of DeafBlind and Blind students are very high. How will you maintain safe environments for these students?
  • What are you doing to further enhance the safety of the school from outsiders that may have COVID-19? 

Deaf Vee Journal will keep an eye on other schools for the Deaf in respect to their plans for the 2020-2021 academic year.