Parents will continue to have the choice of keeping their children at home for remote learning through the second semester of the school year.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran made that announcement during a joint news conference on Nov. 30.
Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt Browning also discussed the state’s new executive order during the Pasco County School Board’s Dec. 1 meeting.
The order “does allow for the continuation of the mySchool Online learning model,” Browning said. “It also does hold school districts harmless, financially, and I would add, with some caveats. We are still working through the details of the order, as it relates to the financial matters.”
The district must submit a plan to the state by Dec. 15, which outlines how it will identify struggling students and provide learning supports.
“Needless to say, staff is working feverishly to not just submit a report, or a plan, but submit a plan that represents how we’re going to support all of our students, and especially the struggling students,” Browning said.
“The plan will require specific steps for progress monitoring,” the superintendent added.
The plan will cover how the district plans to take “even more aggressive steps” in identifying students that are not having success, Browning said.
The district will be making contact with those parents, who then will have a choice between sending their student, or students, back to the traditional brick-and-mortar model, or to continue on with mySchool Online.
If they want to continue remote learning, they must make that affirmative choice.
“That is going to add another level of complexity,” Browning said.
“I will tell you, there will be a district-wide approach to this. There will not be different procedures in different schools,” the superintendent said. The procedure for identifying struggling students and notifying parents will be the same, he explained.
School board member Colleen Beaudoin asked the district to provide additional support for secondary teachers who are in schools where a significant number of notifications will have to be made.
Browning responded: “That is one of the issues that we’re trying to figure out.”
The district also is working on the best approach for notifications to parents.
“Do we send a certified letter home to moms and dads, with a return receipt, so we have written confirmation that they received it. Do we make phone calls? Who makes those phone calls? What information are we sharing with them? What is the measure of success?
“Those are all issues that we’re having to deal with, with guidance from Tallahassee,” Browning said.
While the district works this out, some other district tasks are being put on hold, he added.
Beaudoin said her perception of the press conference was that the state would like to get students back into traditional classrooms.
Browning agreed: “We do know that the Commissioner (Corcoran) was pretty clear yesterday, in his assessment about kids that are struggling: They need to be back in bricks-and-mortar environment.”
But, Browning said he’s pleased the state is continuing to give parents the choice.
“I will tell you that I understand, with where we find ourselves with COVID, particularly on Dec. 1, 2020, I understand why there are parents that do not want to come back into a bricks-and-mortar environment,” he said.
The superintendent went on: “The numbers, because of the measures and steps that we’ve taken as a district, have been relatively low.”
In fact, the number of positive cases among students is about ½ of 1%, he said.
In large part, the cases on campus are not resulting from spread at school, but are originating elsewhere, Browning said.
At one high school, for example, about a dozen students were sent home that were directly tied to a birthday party, he said.
“You go to parks and ballfields, and you will see full parks and ballfields — and I might add, with no masks, or very few masks,” the superintendent said.
Browning also noted that he’s been in constant contact with Mike Napier, the health officer for the Florida Department of Health — Pasco County.
“He’s concerned about the direction that we’re headed — not we, as a district, but we, as a community, are headed with COVID cases,” Browning said.
Board member Beaudoin urged parents to help ensure their children’s success.
Browning said the district needs to give assurances to Tallahassee that it is adding additional supports, and those supports, he said won’t be cheap.
“Miss (Olga) Swinson (chief finance officer), and I, and others — we talk about the funding piece and how we are going to be able to get the dollars that we’re going to need to have in order to provide these supports that the department expects us to provide to these students,” he said. “It’s a sticky wicket.”
School board member Alison Crumbley said the district needs to analyze why students are struggling. “We need to break it down,” she said.
Published December 09, 2020
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