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GAINESVILLE – Santa Fe College will be hosting a “Fall Focus for Families” virtual event Thursday, July 16, 2020, starting at 3 p.m. This event will cover information about the upcoming Fall semester and what resources are available for students, parents and family members.

Santa Fe College is aware of the growing concerns that parents and family members face surrounding the upcoming semester. SF invites all parents and family members to join this free virtual event that will cover information about the Fall semester, resources for parents and family members, and will highlight student services. Parents, family members, and students are to register online at bit.ly/fallfocus.

“We are looking forward to previewing the fall semester to those who will join our SF family in the fall during this event,” said Corry Moore. “Please register in advance at bit.ly/fallfocus, let me know if you have any question.”

The event will begin with an introduction from SF’s Vice President for Student Affairs, Dr. Naima Brown, followed by information on how the college will hold classes and practice safe physical distancing. Attendees will also learn about academic advising, the Learning Commons, which offers free online tutoring and academic coaching, and financial aid and other ways to pay for college. There will also be breakout discussions for students, for families, and the event will conclude with a panel to address remaining questions among participants. 

For more information, contact Corry Moore at corry.moore@sfcollege.edu.

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ALACHUA COUNTY – Alachua County Public Schools has sent emails, phone messages and texts to all families with information about their educational options for the fall of 2020 and a request that they select an option by July 19.

The district plans to offer families three options for educating their children when school reopens. They include the traditional, in-person, five-days-a-week model mandated by the state of Florida and two online options, including the Alachua Digital Academy and Alachua eSchool.

The Digital Academy will be online but will follow the regular school day schedule with live instruction provided by the student’s assigned teachers. This option will have to be approved by the Florida Department of Education and meet FDOE requirements.

Alachua eSchool has been in operation for nearly a decade and currently serves more than 3000 full- and part-time students. This is a much more student-directed option than the Digital Academy, with more flexibility in terms of the schedule, pace and learning style.

More information about all three options and the option form are available on the district’s Choose Your School Option website at https://www.sbac.edu/Page/29815. The site, including the option form, is mobile-friendly. It also includes a Frequently Asked Questions document with more information about the options and the reopening of schools.

The deadline to submit the option form is July 19 at 11:59 p.m. This will allow the district to plan for the reopening of schools and to meet a new state mandate.

Families are being asked to commit to their choice for the first nine weeks of school, although schools will work with families if they need to make a change. If a family does not select an option, the child will be placed in the traditional, in-person option.

A special meeting of the School Board about the reopening of schools is being scheduled for July 15. It is expected that the board will vote on some key issues at that meeting, including a policy on making masks mandatory and a later start date. The calendar approved by the School Board in February has an Aug. 10 start date for students.

On Monday, the Florida Department of Education issued an order requiring all public schools to offer in-person instruction five days a week beginning in August. That order and subsequent communications from the state also require all districts to submit their plans for reopening schools by July 31, using a template provided on Wednesday. Those plans will have to be approved by the state, which will be reviewing them based on when they are submitted. The plans must include an estimate of the number of students who will be learning online.

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GAINESVILLE — Alachua County’s most current health data and leading health concerns are featured in the recently released "Alachua County Community Health Assessment 2020" by WellFlorida Council, the local health planning council of North Central Florida. The purpose of the community health assessment is to uncover or substantiate the health needs and health issues in Alachua County and better understand the causes and contributing factors to health and quality of life in the county.

 

 The comprehensive health assessment effort is based on a nationally recognized model and best practice for completing health assessments and improvement plans called Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships (MAPP). Use of the MAPP process and tools helped assure a collaborative and participatory process with a focus on wellness, quality of life and health equity that led to the identification of shared, actionable, strategic health priorities for Alachua County. Copies of the report can be downloaded from the WellFlorida website (www.WellFlorida.org) under “County Publications.”

 Conclusions and trends in the assessment were drawn from survey data, state and national database findings, and community stakeholder discussions.

The top five most important factors that contribute to a health community as identified by Alachua County residents are: 1) Access to health care including primary care, specialty care, dental and mental health care; 2) Access to convenient, affordable and nutritious foods; 3) Job opportunities for all levels of education; 4) Affordable housing; and 5) Healthy behaviors. The majority of residents rated the health of the county as “somewhat healthy” to “healthy.”

Immunization rates among kindergartners and seventh graders in Alachua County have seen positive trends over the last decade, surpassing state averages (94.2 percent of kindergartners and 97.4 percent of seventh-graders in 2019). The county also reports consistently lower rates of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) cases (16.3 per 100,000 population in 2018) over a decade.

Despite having a wealth of medical resources concentrated in the city of Gainesville, only 69.5 percent of Alachua County residents reported having a personal doctor, slightly lower than the state average of 72 percent. Inappropriate utilization of Emergency Department for dental or oral health reasons remains high at 2,793 preventable visits from January to September 2018.

Health disparities, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines as “preventable differences in the burden of disease, injury, violence or opportunities to achieve optimal health that are experienced by socially disadvantaged populations,” were evident in maternal and infant health data, as well as in other categories such as morbidity and mortality, wealth and quality healthcare.

Rates of teen pregnancy have trended downward among White, Black and Hispanic populations. Black residents, however, continued to experience a higher teen pregnancy rate (2.1 percent) relative to White counterparts (0.3 percent) from 2016 to 2018.

 Infant mortality and low birthweight (LBW) births among the Black population in Alachua County is an area of particular concern. In the time period of 2016-2018, the infant death rate was almost fourfold higher among Black residents (15.8 deaths per 1,000 population) relative to White (4.2 deaths per 1,000 population) and Hispanic (4.3 deaths per 1,000 population) counterparts. The average infant death rate among Black residents in Alachua County is also higher than the average infant death rate among Black residents in Florida (11.2 deaths per 1,000 population). LBW birth trends since 2013 demonstrate a similar pattern with disparities widening in recent years.

The disparity in all-cause mortality rates between the White population and Black population in Alachua County has improved in recent years. All-cause mortality in the Black population decreased from 978 deaths per 100,000 population in 2014 to 909 deaths in 2018. However, this remains higher than the all-cause mortality rate among the White population of 749 deaths per 100,000 population in 2018.

White residents had much higher median household incomes ($54,112) compared to Hispanic residents ($42,410) and Black residents ($30,132) in the county. Income inequality by racial group was worse at the county level than the state level.

Considering all findings throughout the assessment process, community stakeholders identified the issues with the highest priority in Alachua County as access to affordable housing and utilities, health disparities, access to mental healthcare and access to nutritious foods, according to the report.

The project is funded by the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County and UF Health Shands Hospital.

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ALACHUA COUNTY - The Alachua County Commission will conduct a virtual meeting on Friday, July 10, 2020, at 10 a.m. The County Commission will receive a presentation and have a discussion about police reform with Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell. Citizen comment will be taken, but limited to one hour.
The public may attend virtually through Cox Channel 12, Facebook, and the County's Video on Demand website. For meeting audio-only, call 301-715-8592, and when prompted, use code 670 965 3024. The public may submit comments to the board through email (bocc@alachuacounty.us) or by calling into the public comment message line when prompted to call during the meetings. Public comment will be taken by telephone for all non-ministerial items on which the Commission votes. Once public comment is opened for an item under discussion, please call 929-205-6099 (enter meeting code 273 174 8038). Callers will be put in a queue and prompted when it is their turn to speak. To avoid feedback, speakers must turn down their meeting sound when addressing the commission. Callers should state their name and limit comments to two minutes. The public is encouraged to submit any written or photographic documents prior to the meetings to bocc@alachuacounty.us.
The meeting agenda includes:
  • County Sheriff's Office Police Reform
Citizens are encouraged to stay engaged by signing up for the following: FacebookTwitterInstagram, and subscribe to the County's https://visitor.constantcontact.com/manage/optin/ea?v%3D001LBos8BrBhyq7a9DXsuW_2A%3D%3D&source=gmail&ust=1594406965999000&usg=AFQjCNH8HNJ3qAaOrUhYZ2tUmuCvf6O_IQ">Newsletter/Press Release
For more information, contact Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton at 352-264-6979 or msexton@alachuacounty.us.
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ALACHUA COUNTY — More than 40,000 vote-by-mail ballots for the 2020 Primary Election are being mailed to Alachua County voters.
 
Voters who signed up to receive a vote-by-mail ballot should expect to receive their ballots, which will arrive in a pink envelope, no later than July 23. The majority of domestic vote-by-mail ballots are being mailed today, while overseas ballots were mailed on July 2. Any voter who does not receive their vote-by-mail ballot by July 23 should contact the elections office at 352-374-5252 or email votebymail@alachuacounty.us.
 
The deadline to request a vote-by-mail ballot is 5 p.m. Saturday, August 8. Vote-by-mail ballots can be requested online, in person, or by phone, fax, mail or email. Until the deadline, vote-by-mail ballot requests will be filled as they are received. Any voter can sign up to vote by mail.
 
The Supervisor of Elections must receive domestic vote-by-mail ballots by 7 p.m. on Election Day (Tuesday, August 18). Voters who vote by mail are encouraged to have their completed ballots mailed before Tuesday, August 11, to ensure ballots arrive at the Supervisor of Elections Office by the deadline. Voters should also make sure that their voter information and signature are updated before they return their ballot if they have moved or their signature has changed.
 
Additionally, voters are encouraged to be alert when filling out and mailing a vote-by-mail ballot. Advice from the Supervisor of Elections includes:
 
  • Completely color in the oval next to your choice on your ballot — do not circle or mark an “X” over the oval.
  • If you make a mistake on your ballot, call the Supervisor of Elections at 352-374-5252.
  • Be sure to sign your own mail ballot certificate envelope.
  • Return your mail ballot in the official envelope provided. Return postage is prepaid.
 
Any voter who does not sign their ballot or whose signature on the vote-by-mail ballot certificate does not compare to the signature in their voter record will be contacted by the Supervisor of Elections and provided the opportunity to correct the ballot. According to Florida Statutes, voters have until 5 p.m. Thursday, August 20, to complete an affidavit to correct a vote-by-mail ballot that does not have a signature or has a signature that does not match the person’s voter record signature.
 
Starting Sunday, August 9, voters may authorize another person to pick up a vote-by-mail ballot from the Supervisor of Elections Office. A designee must have a note signed by the voter and a picture ID. They must also complete an affidavit, which is available online at https://dos.myflorida.com/media/701775/dsde37.pdf. Designees may not pick up more than two mail ballots per election, excluding their own ballot and ballots for their immediate family.
 
Voters can drop off completed vote-by-mail ballots at the Supervisor of Elections office, located in Gainesville at 515 N. Main St., during normal business hours — 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday — or can use the secure, white afterhours drop-box located outside of the office’s main entrance. The drop-box is open 24/7. Voters have until 7 p.m. on Election Day (August 18) to deliver vote-by-mail ballots to the Supervisor of Elections.
 
For more information, contact the Supervisor of Elections at 352-374-5252.
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ALACHUA COUNTY - The Alachua County Commission  at a July 7, 2020 meeting discussed the $46.9 million in Federal CARES Act dollars coming to Alachua County. They unanimously approved the expenditure of these funds as outlined in the County’s CARES Act Plan. In their action, the Commission emphasized that their most important priority was getting relief to individuals and businesses. 
 
The County is working on the application process and qualifications.  When completed, the County will make every effort to notify the public on how to apply. 
 
“Many in our community are hurting,” said Commission Chair Robert Hutchinson, “and we intend to get this money to those in need as soon as possible.”
 
The following is the approved distribution plan: 
 
1. $21.1 million for Individual Assistance Grants 
  • Rent, mortgage, utility, internet, phone and car payment assistance
  • Daycare assistance for school-aged children, if school attendance is limited
  • Documented issue related to COVID-19 (i.e. furloughed / laid off)
  • Citizens can apply for up to $5,000.  The first-round of grants will be up to $2,500 with the possibility of up to an additional $2,500 in the future as funding allows.
 
2. $7.5 million for Small Business Relief Grants – 25 employees and less
  • Small retail, salons, non-essential businesses, daycares, etc.
  • Documented lost profit from required closure
  • Documented employees (non-owner/family) remaining on payroll while on required closure
  • Up to $10,000 total
 
3. $7.5 million for Medium Business relief grants – more than 25 to 50 employees
  • Sit down restaurants, entertainment venues, etc. 
  • Documented lost profit from required closure
  • Documented employees (non-owner/family) remaining on payroll while on required closure
  • Up to $15,000 total
 
4. $2 million for Medical Expenses 
  • $1,250,000 allocated to the Alachua County Department of Health for contact tracing specialists, epidemiologists, and related support staff for testing, tracing, case management, and containment of COVID-19.
  • $750,000 allocated to other medical expenses to include, but not be limited to:
  • Expansion of testing sites and capabilities
    • Example: Tents with climate mitigation, testing kits, additional sites
  • Increased emergency transport cost
    • Example: Decontamination units, overtime due to quarantine issues, drug costs
 
5. $2 million for Public Health Expenses
  • $1 million for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and medical supplies for public health and safety workers
    • Example:  Masks, face shields, gowns, and similar items
  • $250,000 for disinfecting of public areas and facilities such as nursing homes
    • Example: Aerosol units, spray systems, and disinfecting products
  • $250,000 for quarantining health care and public safety officers 
    • Example: First responders, law enforcement officers, and health personnel
  • $250,000 for preparing public buildings to serve customers 
    • Example: Social distancing markers, signage, modifying counter areas, etc.
  • $250,000 crisis intervention from trauma as a result of COVID-19
 
6. $1 million for payroll expenses
  • Local share of FEMA expenses for county, municipalities, and constitutional officer employees responding to COVID-19.
 
7. $3.3 million for expenses of actions to facilitate compliance with COVID-19-related public health measures
  • $800,000 maintaining the county jail, including as relates to sanitation and improvement of social distancing measures, to enable compliance with COVID-19 public health precautions.
    • Example: Modification to Air Handling System, and inmates per pod / cell.
  • $500,000 local share of FEMA expenses for county, municipalities, and constitutional officer non-payroll expenses responding to COVID-19.
  • $500,000 cost to enforce public ordinances in place to prevent the transmission of COVID-19. 
    • Example: Overtime, additional staff, and law enforcement support
 
8. $2.5 million for any other COVID-19-related eligible expenses reasonably necessary to the function of government
  • To be held in reserve for programs not yet determined and expenses not yet anticipated. If not expended by October 30, 2020, this amount shall be redistributed to other categories.
 
The Commission’s motion also approved:
 
  1. The use of a third-party administrator to implement programming and monitor funds for the programs outlined in this plan.
  2. The Resolution and budget amendment for unanticipated revenues and budget amendment to receive and account for these funds.
  3. The execution of sub-recipient agreements by the Chair with any entity or agency receiving funding from the County. 
  4. Directing staff to work with all stakeholders’ utilities, landlords, etc. to get the word out to citizens regarding the County’s Assistance Program. The intent is to work with all agencies to get the word out for bills to be paid, and the Chair is authorized to sign Chair Letters to assist with the effort.
  5. Staff providing an update at the first meeting in August and all subsequent meetings in August of the funding program for the Board to determine if it wishes to reallocate.  
  6. A staff report to the Board on the July 14, 2020 meeting on the Code Enforcement activities of County staff and each of the municipalities’ enforcement activities. 
  7. Allowing for individuals to apply for up to $5,000.00 and cap the award at $2,500 per household for the initial round. 
  8. Including that assistance for complying with the County Public Health Ordinance is an eligible expense and asks that the Companies warrant that they are complying with the County Emergency Orders.
 
For more information, contact Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton at 352-264-6979 or 
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ALACHUA COUNTY –The continuing COVID-19 pandemic is making it nearly impossible to plan for future events, both personal and community wide.  The situation is continually evolving, making plans dependent on the virus and its infection rate. Due to the school shutdowns caused by COVID-19, educators have had to rethink and improvise teaching and communication with students and families.

Alachua County Public Schools (ACPS) had to transition rapidly from traditional teaching methods in a classroom setting to online and distance learning, finding ways to continue to teach, making use of the technology available.  Now Alachua County Public Schools has released a draft return-to-school plan.

On March 14, the State ordered that all Florida public schools take an additional week off after spring break with plans to reopen on March 30. But the numbers continued to rise rapidly to over a thousand cases by March 22. Less than two weeks later, on March 31 there were 6,741 cases and 85 deaths. The Board of Education announced that all schools would remain closed until at least May, but each deadline was pushed back due to the continued outbreak and eventually the schools would remain closed for the year while educators scrambled to reinvent education for remote learning.

On June 3, Governor DeSantis announced that Florida would enter Phase Two of reopening starting June 5. It looked like school would return to normal for the next year.

However, as people flocked to recreation areas and indoor activities, the numbers of cases suddenly spiked in mid-June, and plans are thrown into turmoil. The Florida Department of Education was tasked with coming up with different options for an unpredictable school year.

After weeks of intensive work that included reviews of return-to-school plans from districts across Florida and other states, surveys of families and staff, consultations with local healthcare experts and guidance from the Florida Department of Education, Alachua County Public Schools has released a draft plan for the reopening of schools in the fall of 2020.

The plan outlines strategies that will be implemented depending on the community spread of the virus in three scenarios—no spread, minimal/moderate spread and significant spread. According to the Alachua County Health Department, Alachua County is currently in the minimal/moderate spread category, although that could change so the School Board came up with different options.

A survey previously sent to parents showed that of the more than 12,000 respondents, about 36 percent completely supported a return to in-person schooling with precautions, including frequent handwashing and enhanced cleaning of facilities, while about 26 percent did not.

“We recognize that no single plan will meet every family’s needs, particularly in this very challenging environment,” said Superintendent Karen Clarke. “What we’ve tried to create is a draft plan that provides options and covers a variety of scenarios depending on the course of the virus.”

The draft plan has been reviewed by the Alachua County Health Department and the district’s medical director, a pediatrician with UF Health. District staff will remain in constant contact with local healthcare professionals about COVID-19 and its impact on schools.

The complete draft plan, with additional information, is available on the district’s website at https://fl02219191.schoolwires.net/Page/30007. The draft plan is not a final plan and is dependent on the future of the virus.

The Alachua County School District will be seeking more input from staff, families and the community before the plan is finalized, which is scheduled for July 15. A school board workshop on July 8 at 2 p.m. will include a presentation on the draft plan, including the instructional options, and an opportunity for citizens to comment and ask questions. That workshop will be held online and will be open to the public. In the meantime, citizens can submit their input at returntoschool@gm.sbac.edu.

If the situation allows for it, the district currently plans to reopen schools to students on Aug. 10. Emails, texts and phone messages with a link to the plan are being sent to all families with students in the district.

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