SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - After first extending spring break by an extra week, on Tuesday, the Florida Department of Education announced that all public and private K-12 and career and technical center campuses will remain closed through April 15th.
The news came as a surprise to parents and left many wondering what the school districts would do.
Manatee County Schools had their plan ready immediately, announcing late Tuesday that they will being using an Instructional Continuity Plan around a learning management system called Schoology, where teachers can create lessons, design content and communicate with students remotely.
Teachers will be trained March 23-27 and begin delivering lessons to students at home on Monday, March 30.
In a statement, Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said, “Next week will be extremely important for all of our teachers, principals, administrators and support personnel to make sure everything is in order and we are fully prepared to meet the needs of our students. We will also be providing parents with important information on how this will work and how their students can continue to get the lessons they need to successfully complete this school year.”
Sarasota County Schools needed a day to finalize their plans, releasing those plans late Wednesday. Like Manatee County Schools, the week of March 23-27, staff will complete their Instructional Continuity Plan and the district will communicate with families around technology needs.
The district recommends families who need internet service visit Comcast’s Internet Essentials website at www.internetessentials.com to begin the connection process and let the district know if you need a laptop by completing the district’s survey here: www.sarasotacountyschools.net/deviceneedssurvey or by calling 941-927-9000, ext. 31350.
Starting Monday, March 30, teachers will be trained around delivering remote learning and the district will roll out remote learning to all schools on Wednesday, April 1. You can find additional information around some testing and meals here.
On Tuesday, government officials announced that districts should be prepared to extend their educational calendars through June 30, 2020, to the extent that it’s feasible and necessary. Districts have been given flexibility to provide alternative services or to delay services until the summer months for students with IEP-related services who may be disrupted.
But that’s just the beginning of the announcements:
- All remaining assessments for school readiness, voluntary prekindergarten and K-12 assessments are cancelled for the 2019-2020 school year.
- Requirements for graduation and promotion, and final course grades will be evaluated as though those assessments which were cancelled did not exist.
- K-12 school grades will not be calculated for 2019-2020 and schools in turnaround may continue their current status for 2020-2021 to avoid disruption to school leadership and operations.
- Eligibility for Florida Bright Futures scholarships shall be based on available data and results. Tests that were not available to be taken shall not be counted.
- The Commissioner may reduce required instructional hours as necessary to accommodate for closures.
Districts are also being given instruction to use unspent funds and to help low-income students purchase digital devices and establish Internet services and use Safe Schools and Mental Health allocations towards virtual and telephonic mental health counseling services for students who need emotional support due to COVID-19.
Because of the changes, all school readiness, voluntary prekindergarten, K-12, career and technical centers and state college programs “will receive their full allocation of funding, and therefore staff and contractors can be paid fully, through June 30, 2020, as though there was no disruption in education.”
For teachers, exam fees and certification-related examinations will be waived for the next 120 days. Those unable to take an exam due to test site closures will be granted an extension.
School boards and state college board of trustee meetings are postponed and may only be scheduled for emergency purposes. If held, they must be virtual or over the phone.
Along those lines, any mass gatherings, community events and extracurricular activities, including sports of more than 10 people in a single occupied space at any educational program, school readiness, voluntary prekindergarten, public and private K-12, career and technical centers, and public and private colleges and universities are canceled.
All public state college and university, and private college and university campuses and buildings are closed for the remainder of the spring semester and there will be no commencement in May. Colleges and universities are “encouraged to operate virtually or through other non-classroom-based means to the greatest extent possible” and “should be prepared to extend their educational calendars through June 30, 2020, to the extent feasible and necessary.”
The move followed news that four students at the University of Florida had tested positive for coronavirus. One had traveled internationally and at least two others had visited a hot spot, like New York. Gov. DeSantis said he wants to prevent students from congregating on campus, even if they’re taking classes online.
The Department of Education did point out that four districts - Duval, Union, Sumter and Collier - are implementing distance learning when their extended spring breaks end and while their campuses remain closed through April 15th.
“It is essential that students do not fall behind and are still receiving instruction, even when they are not in the classroom,” said Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran. “I praise these districts for being prepared to swiftly implement distance learning. It is crucial that we keep students safe and healthy, and I will continue working with each and every district to ensure that they have all the resources necessary as we respond to COVID-19.”