How Will Florida Schools Handle Code Red Drills Amid Pandemic?

The Florida Department of Education is working to create guidance on how schools should approach emergency drills while social distancing requirements are in place.

Earlier this month, the Florida Department of Education mandated its schools reopen for in-person learning for the upcoming academic year. As administrators and teachers work to implement safety measures required by the state to curb the spread of the coronavirus, they must also consider changes to safety protocols already in place, including those for Code Red drills.

When asked by The Florida Times-Union how schools should be expected to handle a Code Red situation or drill, the department said it hasn’t gotten that far. In the state of Florida, a Code Red is issued when there is an immediate threat, prompting a school-wide lockdown where students and teachers to cram into designated areas.

“I don’t have anything yet to share with you,” Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cherryl Etters said over the phone to the Times-Union. “I know the staff is working on sending something out.”

Etters also said there is “no real timeline as of yet” regarding guidance from the state on how to observe Code Red lockdowns during the pandemic.

While they wait, districts like Duval County Public Schools are proposing their own plans. On Thursday, the Duval County School board approved a resolution to request that the state Department of Education waive mandates to perform emergency drills, including those for fires, natural disasters, bomb threats and active shooters. The resolution says social distancing complicates drills.

“Emergency drills result in close contact of students and district staff that is contrary to the social distancing and other protective measures implemented by the district in response to COVID-19,” it reads.

Instead of in-person training, students and staff would receive verbal training — something many parents are not supporting.

“What happens if a real code red happens, are we just going to wing it and just hope it goes well?” a parent wrote in the Duval Schools Pandemic Solutions Team Facebook Group.

The group has nearly 3,000 members, including parents, educators and public school advocates, and has staged caravans and media tours to share concerns about reopening schools as coronavirus cases in the state continue to spike.

“The board saying that schools are too dangerous to have fire drills in should be a clear signal to the community that school is too dangerous to go to,” said Chris Guerrieri, a teacher who is also running for a School Board seat this year. “Teachers and staff want to return, we all believe in-school learning is the best way to go, but we must prioritize health and safety. We can make up lost time but we can’t make up lost lives.”

In a real Code Red scenario, district spokesperson Sonya Duka-Bolden said social distancing would “go out the window.”

“In the event of an actual Code Red, normal Code Red protocols would be followed,” she said. “We are unable to disclose what those protocols are because they are confidential under law.”

The district’s first day of school is Aug. 10 but the board may discuss delaying the start at its next meeting — something a third of the state’s districts have already considered, according to The Times-Union.

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