Florida Public Schools in Polk County and surrounding counties have already delayed the start of the school year by 2 weeks. Hillsborough County just announced, this evening, they would conduct school virtually for at least the first month of the school year. I suspect other counties nearby will follow suit.
If you have been listening to the school board meetings; attending school in person may not take place. Many are saying its too risky, healthwise, for all concerned. No one can predict, with absolute certainty, that the kids will be able to be educated in a safe environment.
Concerns for the 2020-2021 School Year
There are many reasons why parents, teachers, and students should be concerned about the upcoming school year. How many think the children will actually learn from the pensive environment that will be surrounding each school? The school board is trying to take all concerns into perspective. The members are doing the best they can to process everyone’s concerns. However, the State has ordered all public schools to open their doors.
First, will more focus be placed on health safety rather than the student’s education? Trying to coordinate bus schedules, 6 ft social distances, random temperature checks, and the potential of group contagions may become more important than the job of teaching and learning.
Secondly, if single or group contagions of students become prominent, how will school boards handle the absentee yearly requirements to keep a student from falling behind. Will the school boards “Insurmountable conditions” be applicable due to the coronavirus? The definition of insurmountable conditions can be read here. (F.A.C. 6A-1.09513) Will eCampus learning be available to those students forced to quarantine? Does the school board have a plan to convert learning choices in the middle of a quarter, and if so, how?
Will buses be able to keep up in all public schools?
Third, will the school bus system be an effective resource to get the students to school on time with more requirements for spacial distancing? Some buses were already at full capacity with three to a seat. Now, the goal is to reduce children to two per seat and alternating seats for distancing purposes. An estimated 14,000 students will hopefully be attending school in person, according to the parent survey conducted last month in Polk County.
What if there is a difference between a parent’s temperature reading and bus drivers’? Do you board the student who may or may not be sick? How do you determine whether it is a common cold, sinus issues or the actual coronavirus? A lot of people are asymptomatic so how can we determine who has what? What if a child sneezes on the bus and needs to blow their nose? Does a child need to bring a note from the doctor explaining its a simple cold? To what extreme are we to take precautions without placing too much fear into our children’s minds?
Fourth, will the school board impose a cobbling effect on grades as they did at the end of the last school year? Virtual schooling became a last-minute attempt to repair the remainder of the school year for students in the 2019-2020 school year. Yes, everyone had to make adjustments. However, the adjustments made were not conducive to maintaining a learning atmosphere. Teachers were told not to give students grades any less than what they performed in the 3rd quarter grading period. Because of that, my student did not feel the urgency to actually learn anything. He knew that he wouldn’t fail based on what the teachers had told him. How is that a productive and effective method of teaching?
Fifth, will schools across the county still remain focused on the arts and sports? Many have said sports events and practices are now canceled. How will that affect the other elective courses such as band, music, after school clubs, and other art programs? If those programs are canceled as well, will the assigned classrooms be used to space out more students? How will the cafeteria’s be able to socially distance the students? Most local high schools have over 2000 students going to lunch within 3-4 periods. That’s where students like to conjugate and hang out the most.
Sixth, will there be additional PPE equipment for students in public schools? Many parents do not have the resources to provide daily PPE equipment for their children. Job loss is high and unemployment benefits are not so forthcoming anymore. Some parents are on the threshold of losing their homes. Some parents need their kids to go to school so they can work. There are a plethora of reasons that this school year will be overwhelming for so many. The additional cost of PPE equipment need for the janitors, teachers, students, and staff will also be a factor.
Seventh, wifi capabilities are a concern. Roughly 25-30% of students do not have access to the internet. As well, many families will be pressed to find a job that allows one parent to stay home with their children to learn online. Some of these issues are just carry-overs from the end of the last school year.
There are far too many unanswered questions at this time. I applaud the Polk County School Board for making every attempt to ease all angles of concern. They have spent numerous hours in meetings trying to hire more personnel, obtain cleaning supplies, and navigating the CDC guidelines to keep the children safe. Some children learn better in person and some do better individually and in an online capacity.
In conclusion, we all need to work together to make the best of a bad situation. Certainly, not everyone will be overjoyed nor will everyone be in agreement as to what’s best for the students. However, all children have a right to an education and we must do our best to ensure the next few generations will be able to adapt to situations beyond our control. Ultimately, education is essential!