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ALACHUA COUNTY – The voter registration deadline for the 2020 Primary Election is July 20.

Additionally, any voter who desires to change his or her party affiliation must do so by the July 20 deadline for it to be in effect for this election.

All Alachua County voters will be able to vote in this election, which will be held August 18.

Florida is a closed primary state, meaning that voters who want to vote in a partisan primary election must be a registered voter in the party for which the primary is being held. 

Voters registered with the Florida Democratic Party by July 20 will vote in Democratic contests, while voters registered with the Republican Party of Florida by that date will vote in Republican contests. All voters, regardless of party affiliation, will vote in nonpartisan contests, such as those for seats on the Alachua County School Board.

Registered voters are encouraged to verify and update voter registrations. This can be done at https://www.votealachua.com/My-Registration-Status or by calling 352-374-5252.

There are numerous ways for prospective voters to register:

  • Online: Florida residents can register to vote online. The online voter registration portal — found at gov — is a safe and secure option for voter registration.
  • In person: The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections’ office, located in Gainesville at 515 N. Main St. on the third floor of the Josiah T. Walls Building, is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Registrations can also be completed and turned in at any Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles office or Alachua County Public Library.
  • After hours: The Alachua County Supervisor of Elections’ office has a secure after-hours drop box outside its main entrance. Completed forms received through the drop box by 11:59 p.m. July 20 will be accepted.
  • By mail: Forms are available online at VoteAlachua.com. Mailed forms must be completed and postmarked by the July 20 deadline.

Currently registered Florida voters will be able to update their information through Election Day. It is recommended that they do so sooner, however, as it could mean a change in voters’ assigned polling places.

For more information, contact the Supervisor of Elections at 352-374-5252.

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HIGH SPRINGS – An organization that brings comfort and joy to ease suffering during times of traumatic events, medical challenges and loss has been named SunState Federal Credit Union’s June 2020 Charity of the Month. This is the third time High Springs-based Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses has won the award. A $1,000 prize will be awarded to the organization along with a $300 nomination prize.

A charity can only be entered into the contest once every two years. Gentle Carousel won two years ago and then two years prior to that. However, they can’t win unless they are nominated and receive the greatest number of votes during a given month. In addition to the prize money, the Charity of the Month program provides local organizations community awareness in the local area and beyond.

The money will be used for transportation costs for the therapy horses. “Yes, they are still making visits with social distancing,” said Debbie Garcia-Bengochia, one of the organization’s administrators. “This week the horses will be outside the windows of several assisted living programs using indoor and outdoor iPads to talk to the residents and answer questions,” she said. Following their “window visits” residents receive stuffed toy horses as a remembrance of their visit.

According to Sunstate, Gentle Carousel Miniature Therapy Horses bring love to over 25,000 adults and children each year inside hospitals, hospice programs, assisted living programs, and with families, veterans and first responders who have experienced traumatic events.

A SunState spokesperson said, “Our number one goal for the Charity of the Month program is to give smaller, local organizations…the very ones that are the heart and soul of our communities…some much needed exposure.

“When you think about it, it’s hard to believe something as small and easy to accomplish as voting for a Charity of the Month could have such a big impact…but it does”

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GAINESVILLE ‒ The School Board of Alachua County will be holding a special meeting/workshop on Wednesday, July 15 at 4 p.m. to vote on and discuss items related to the reopening of schools.

Superintendent Karen Clarke will be bringing forward two recommendations for a Board vote. They include a requirement that all students and staff wear masks at schools and on school buses, with some exemptions based on age and medical condition.

“We’ve heard from many families that they would feel more comfortable with a return to brick-and-mortal schools if masks were required,” said Superintendent Karen Clarke. “We’ve developed a draft policy that has been reviewed and approved by the Alachua County Health Department.”

The second recommendation is a delay of the start of the school year for students until Aug. 24. Currently the first day of school for students is scheduled for Aug. 10.

Last week Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran issued an emergency order requiring all public schools open in person for all students beginning in August. Districts that also want to offer an ‘innovative alternative,’ such as ACPS’ Digital Academy, must submit their plan to the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) by July 31. The plan must meet new state requirements and include an estimate of the number of families who plan to choose an online option for their students.

“In light of these new requirements and all the planning and preparation that will need to be done, including staff training, we think it’s best to delay the return of students until the 24th,” said Clarke.

The later start date for students would also mean a later return to work day for teachers and other 10-month staff, although that schedule and its impact on employees will have to be discussed with the Alachua County Education Association, which represents the district’s teachers and educational support professionals.

During the meeting/workshop, which will be conducted online, district staff will be presenting additional information to the Board about the reopening of schools, particularly the three instructional options the district is offering families—the traditional, in-person option mandated by the state and two online options, including the Digital Academy and the Alachua eSchool.

More details all three options, an FAQ and the option form families are asked to complete by 11:59 p.m. July 19 are available on the district’s Choose Your School Option website at: https://fl02219191.schoolwires.net/Page/29815

Citizens can review the agenda for the meeting, which includes instructions for watching on YouTube and providing input, at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1srkwn3I1opSvQMIvs0wiTjraAas0zXki/view

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ALACHUA – On Wednesday July 1, the City of Alachua issued a call to action to all children regardless of abilities to have fun.

The City held a ribbon cutting in Legacy Park to officially mark the opening of an all-inclusive playground. On hand to witness the event were City of Alachua Commissioners and officials, State Representative Chuck Clemons, and members of the public, including children of all ages.

The all-inclusive playground is different from traditional playgrounds and is designed to remove barriers that exclude any child due to physical, social or other limitations, and provides a place for children of all abilities to play and interact together in the same environment.

Most playgrounds are designed for the majority of kids and can often be limiting to those children with physical or mental limitations. While many places have separate areas for children with limitations, this playground is designed to include everyone and improve social interaction for all children.

“Statistics show that nearly 15 percent of all playground-age children have some form of physical or social limitation,” Alachua Communications Director Mike DaRoza said. “In Alachua, we feel that any child with these types of limitations is cause enough for our community to provide an inclusive playground.”

Prior to setting plans into action, city staff looked at playgrounds around the state to get ideas on what to revise or keep for a better more inclusive playground. “Most of our neighborhood parks were designed for the majority of kids in that neighborhood, and we needed a bigger space to build a new one. With the expansion of Legacy Park to 105 acres, that became a perfect location,” DaRoza said.

While the City of Alachua Master Plan included a playground in the expansion of Legacy Park, it was not considered an all-inclusive playground for kids with disabilities, but that plan would change. About a year earlier, the City was approached by local resident and mother of three, Susan Sloan. While her children were grown, she had seen inclusive playgrounds in other places and suggested it to the City Commission and City Manager.

The design was revised to accommodate an all-inclusive playground. Sloan was actively involved in the meetings, planning and design, often finding other inclusive playgrounds while traveling to see what worked and what didn't. Funding for the playground included a Wild Places and Private Spaces grant as well as individual donations to supplement City funds.

The new playground is different from the ground up and has a poured in place surface that allows for easy wheelchair access with various points of entry. The surface material is softer than dirt or concrete with specific softer fall pit areas around the equipment to lessen the chance of injury. The equipment is custom built to allow access by all children. The merry-go-round is level with the ground to provide easy access for wheelchairs and individuals with other disabilities. The swing set features a variety of swings geared toward different needs. There is also a quiet area where kids can go to reflect and enjoy a calming environment. The large jungle gym/slide includes talk tubes for kids in different sections to communicate. All play areas include sensory elements for touch, sound and visual experiences for children, features that were specifically added to create an environment that meets individualized abilities.

Alachua’s inclusive playground also takes into account Florida’s hot, humid weather, incorporating a feature that many playgrounds do not. “Since the heat and humidity can be high in the summer when most children are off school, the City wanted to limit the possibilities of dehydration and heat exhaustion and put coverings over all the equipment,” DaRoza said.

“The ultimate reason for the Legacy Park Inclusive Playground is to remove barriers that exclude any child due to physical, social or any other limitation, providing a place for children of all abilities to play and interact together in the same environment.”

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GAINESVILLE – The University of Florida on July 10, 2020 released its updated Reopening Plan for the fall semester, which lays out how the university will move forward amid the ongoing pandemic. The Our Plan Forward is a comprehensive guide for students, faculty, staff and community on what the fall semester will entail.

Classes begin Aug. 31, final exams will be completed by Dec. 18, and instructors are encouraged to allow course and exam completion remotely after Thanksgiving break.

Students who registered for fall classes in February will not be required to re-register, although they may need to adjust their schedule in cases where classes have been divided into additional sections to allow for physical distancing.

Class offerings in the fall include some in-person classes that will be smaller to allow for physical distancing.  Some classes will be held outdoors.  There will be more online classes, and some will be hybrids of both in-person and online.  Students who prefer to stay online for the fall semester who can do so while staying on track to graduate on time, are encouraged to configure their schedules accordingly. 

Across all undergraduate, graduate and professional courses, 35 percent of the sections are scheduled to be held in face-to-face or hybrid modes. An additional 35 percent of the sections are scheduled to be delivered in a synchronous, online format where students will be engaging with the instructor and course activities at a prescribed time over the internet.  If the incidence of coronavirus improves during the Fall term, these courses could become face-to-face courses simply by assigning a meeting room. 

Residence halls and dining facilities will be open with modifications that promote necessary physical distancing and other safety measures in alignment with UF Health recommendations.  It is expected that most of the facilities students rely on to be open, including the Southwest Recreation Center, the Libraries, the Reitz Union, and Newell Hall. 

Campus residences will operate with a reduced capacity and will adjust occupancy within some rooms to promote safety. Triple rooms will no longer be available. Masks will not be required within a student’s own room as roommates in residence halls will be treated as a single household. However, face coverings are required in common areas, hallways and outside of rooms where physical distancing may be difficult to maintain.

Campus traditions as well as extracurricular and co-curricular activities will continue to the greatest extent possible, although many will occur in modified fashion.

The entire campus community is expected to continue the standard practices of wearing face coverings – required in all UF facilities – physical distancing, handwashing and staying home when you feel sick. UF also will be expanding enhanced cleaning and safety protocols in residence halls, dining facilities and classrooms with the arrival of the fall semester.

UF has put in place the UF Health Screen, Test & Protect program, which was launched in early May to return faculty, staff and students to campus at no cost to individuals. Every student will receive a letter outlining the screening process.  All students are required to complete a mandatory COVID-19 screening questionnaire. Students also will have access to COVID-19 testing.  

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ALACHUA – A local group in Alachua is making life a bit easier for troops overseas and is also stepping up to help military families who can’t afford to send their own care packages to their loved one. The Military Support Group of Alachua County (MSGFAC) sends monthly care packages to deployed soldiers in combat zones to provide items they can’t find in the field to make their lives a little easier and remind them of home.

MSGFAC President Ronna Jackson explained part of the reason the groups mission is so important to the members, many of whom have family members that either served, are currently serving or are veterans themselves.

“We owe our freedom in America to these heroes that are willing to risk their lives to defend people they do not even know, but are fellow Americans,” Jackson said. “This is especially true of our current military. During the Vietnam War there was a draft where people had to serve by law. But our current troops are all volunteers, who give up their civilian life to serve their country. What we do is a small way to say thank you.”

The group sends monthly packages to service members whose names have been provided by families or friends. They typically ship 20-30 boxes a month. Boxes usually contain items that are hard to get in the field such as nonperishable food, snacks, candy, personal hygiene items, writing supplies, movie videos and clothing items such as socks and underwear.

Troops may be out in the field for several weeks with nowhere to wash clothes and often wear the socks till they wear out from multiple marches. The military has a set quota for replacements, so additional socks and underwear are appreciated. Each box also contains letters and cards from people back home thanking the soldiers and offering a pen pal to correspond with.

Supplies for the packages come both from donations of cash or goods and from funds the group raises from special events they host. Members of the group are assigned items to purchase with one person getting snacks, another toiletries and hygiene items while another will get writing supplies or videos. The group meets once a month over a pot luck dinner supplied by members to load the boxes for shipping.

The whole process changed when the COVID-19 pandemic struck. In person group meetings stopped. Many of the members were older and concerns of spreading the potentially lethal virus put the group’s health concerns a priority. In April and May, the MSGFAC was unable to ship any boxes. For much of that time mail service was limited to necessary items and the packages were not considered essential.

“It really was a hard time emotionally, as we had to stop sending anything to the troops, especially since this was a trying time for the deployed troops concerned about their families back home as the virus spread,” Jackson said. “We decided we had to find a way to do this safely and get back on track, so we started up again in June.”

The process changed to adapt to social distancing. Instead of a whole group gathering over a meal to load the boxes, each member put together a box and brought the completed package to the First United Methodist Church in Alachua. Several members volunteered to put the packages into cars on a no-contact drive-through basis on a designated evening. Members picking up the packages shipped on their own.

But the pandemic had also shortened the list of soldiers they were shipping to, and at the July 2 distribution, there were only 16 packages to send. While group numbers went down, some members had specific soldiers they had been sending to, so they sent packages individually.

“One of our concerns is that with the high unemployment and financial difficulties the pandemic has caused will limit the ability of families to send on their own. Many families who were not part of our group were sending their own packages to their family members who were deployed, but could no longer afford to do so,” Jackson said.

“We want to help those families. Their resources may now be limited but our group has the funds, but we need the names and addresses of these soldiers so we can send them packages,” Jackson said. “Anyone who is having financial difficulties and has a soldier deployed can contact us and we will send a package for them each month.”

While the MSGFAC is limiting direct contact meetings currently, the group is open to anyone who would like to help support the troops, either as a volunteer or for donations. They can be contacted through their website at msgfac.com.

Families with deployed troops who are having financial difficulties due to loss of income can email the group at their website with the name and address of their soldier. The group will make sure that the soldiers get a monthly package.

“For the soldiers deployed in combat areas, these packages are important,” Jackson said. “They give them a sense of home and lets then know that we care and appreciate their service.”

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Santa Fe College Releases Levels of Operation Plan for the Fall Term

GAINESVILLE – Santa Fe College released a five-level plan for the phased in return to onsite instruction and student services. The college has been using a deliberate phased-in approach to returning faculty and staff since moving all operations online in mid-March.

Although the plan could change, based on CDC recommendations as well as guidance from the Florida Department of Health and local health officials, the college plans to open at Level 3 for the fall term. Level three would mean approximately 75 percent of courses would be offered online, leaving on-campus instruction to programs that require hands-on instruction including Career and Technical Education programs, science labs and programs approved by the provost.

Student services would be available both online and onsite, college facilities will be open with enhanced cleaning to reduce community transmission, and students, faculty and staff who will be on campus will be required to wear a cloth face covering.

LEVEL 1 – Traditional On-campus Operations

o   College provides open access to comprehensive programming on campus with distance learning options (20-25 percent) that extend access

o   Student access to campus unlimited (up to 17,000)

o   All student-support and auxiliary services are fully deployed on campus with remote service for students who require it

o   All facilities are open and cleaned without need for special protocols

o   All staff in usual on-campus assignments; college-related travel permitted

 

LEVEL 2 – Limited On-campus Operations

o   Public health shows risk of community transmission; safe social distancing in effect

o   College increases options for distance education (50 percent) as a means of supporting access; prioritizes on-campus resources to support large-group instruction and hands-on activities in CTE programs, science labs, the arts, and programs where optimized instruction warrants

o   Student access to campus constrained by safe distancing; campus population likely reduced 33-50 percent

o   Student and public services delivered both on campus and via remote operations

o   Facilities will be open with enhanced cleaning services that reduce community transmission

o   Employees will report on-campus to perform most services; employees whose jobs can be accomplished without compromising performance eligible for remote work; college-related travel limited

 

LEVEL 3 – Partial Remote Operations

o   Public health shows risk of community transmission; safe social distancing in effect

o   College increases distance education (75 percent) as a means of supporting public health; most didactic instruction delivered remotely; on-campus activities permitted in hands-on CTE programs, science labs, the arts, and courses/programs approved by the Provost

o   Student access to campus limited to safe social distancing; campus population likely reduced by more than 50 percent

o   Student and public services delivered both on campus and via remote operations

o   Facilities will be open with enhanced cleaning services that reduce community transmission

o   Employees will report on campus to deliver many services; employees whose jobs can be performed without compromising performance recommended for remote work; college-related travel limited

 

LEVEL 4 -- All Academic Operations delivered Remotely, with Hands-on Training Permitted

o   Public health shows significant risk of community transmission; safe physical distancing a community priority

o   All didactic instruction delivered through distance education (85 percent); campus access restricted to CTE programs requiring specialized equipment, facilities, and skills training are permitted on campus; approved safety plans required for each on-campus program

o   Mission-critical services delivered mostly remotely with limited on-campus presence

o   Only mission-critical facilities required for essential operations are open; facilities in use receive enhanced cleaning

o   Only essential employees required for on-campus continuation of services are on campus (approx. 10 percent of employees); college-related travel not permitted except for mission-critical matters

 

Level 5 – 100 percent Remote Operations

o   Public health in emergency state; quarantine or shelter-in-place in effect; Emergency Order in effect

o   All instruction is delivered remotely with no exception; all student support and college services are delivered remotely or curtailed

o   Facilities will continue only essential maintenance of buildings and grounds

o   All employees working in remote operations; college-related travel not permitted

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