Talk to just about any K-12 parent in Pinellas County and chances are good that the topic of school reopening will come up. When’s the first day? Is it safe? What happens if someone tests positive for Covid-19?
With so much uncertainty surrounding school reopening, Pinellas County school administrators held a school reopening town hall meeting on Facebook Wednesday night. The session has since racked up more than 2,000 comments. Some commenters offered praise. Other asked questions. Many more expressed criticism and frustration by what they perceived as a lack of concrete information from the administration.
Parents have until July 27 at 5 p.m. to select from three schooling options:
- Traditional return to school: Under this choice, students will attend their home school as usual.
- MyPCS Online: This option allows students to remain enrolled in their assigned school with all instruction being delivered virtually.
- Pinellas Virtual School: Students who opt for virtual school will no longer be enrolled at their assigned school. They’ll be required to enroll in six courses each semester and must complete their assignments in 16-18 weeks, and they can work at their own pace.
Superintendent Mike Grego has proposed pushing the school start date from Aug. 12 to Aug. 24. If that happens, teachers will go back to work Aug. 13. The school board will vote on Grego’s recommendation at its July 28 meeting.
Here are some of the questions and answers from the session:
Q. What will classrooms look like?
A. Teachers and students will be required to wear masks, and the district will be providing students with five washable masks at the start of the school year. They’ll have extras on hand and bus drivers will also carry spare masks. Classrooms will be configured to maximize social distancing and teachers will sit at least six feet away from their students. Additional furniture will be cleared out of the classrooms, and the rooms will be cleaned and disinfected nightly.
Q. What are the protocols if a student or staff member is confirmed to have Covid-19?
Staff members are asked to talk to their principals if they test positive. Parents are asked to do the same should their child be infected. The principal will then contact the district’s Covid team, which also coordinates with the Pinellas County Department of Health.
Q. Will my child have to quarantine if a classmate or teacher becomes ill?
There really is no one-size-fits-all answer. The Department of Health will take the information provided to them to investigate the situation, and they will consider a variety of factors when deciding who might need to quarantine and for how long. The schools will be vigilant in communicating this information to parents.
Q. Will schools be taking students’ temperatures every day?
Logistically, it would be too difficult to do so, and children with Covid don’t always have fevers. Families will be given information on symptoms to look for and are asked to monitor their child’s health.
Q. Are teachers comfortable going back?
A. There’s a wide range of comfort levels in returning to the classroom, and the school district is working with the teachers union to iron out details.
Q. How will MyPCS Online look different from when it was implemented in the spring?
A. It will be easier to follow and have more structure. There will be more live lessons and classes will be held on a regular bell schedule. However, students won’t be expected to be online all day. Also, lessons will be recorded so if parents want to work with their children in the evening, they will have the ability to do so.
Q. What about magnet programs and speciality classes?
A. Students in magnet and speciality programs will be able to stay in them even if they opt for MyPCS online. The only reason students would lose their spots would be if they opted for the fully online Pinellas Virtual School. Speciality courses, including AP and dual enrollment, will be taught online and may involve students being live streamed into the classroom.
Q. How will parents with multiple children manage with shared technology?
A. Pinellas County Schools is in the process of purchasing 42,000 laptop computers and will provide each student with his or her own device. The use of headphones is also encouraged so students don’t distract one another when doing online learning.
Q. What if students or parents change their minds?
A. Families are asked to stick with whatever option they choose for nine weeks and can reassess their decision after that. The district wants to avoid people flip flopping back and forth between in-person and online learning as much as possible. However, if the option selected truly isn’t working out, schools will be able to make adjustments on a case-by-case basis.
Q. What is the school district doing to compensate for potential learning loss due to Covid-19?
A. Just as they do following a regular summer vacation, teachers will assess their students to see what they’ve retained. They’ll use that information to develop action plans and will monitor and reassess accordingly.
Q. Do teachers have assignments yet?
The district is still in the middle of the process, and teachers have a deadline of July 27 to express their preference for in-person or online instruction. Assignments will be made based on the responses from teachers and from students.
Q. What about clubs, extracurricular activities and sports?
A. Clubs will continue to operate, ideally virtually for the first nine weeks of the term. Extracurricular activities like school dances probably won’t happen anytime soon. Just like in the pros, sports may see their seasons shortened. The Florida High School Athletic Association had planned to allow fall sports to begin practice on July 27, although it will likely push that date back to Aug. 10. Pinellas County will not open practice next week.