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Colleges and K-12 schools prep for online learning possibility as coronavirus concerns spread

Posted at 6:30 PM, Mar 10, 2020

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. -- Schools, colleges and universities across Florida are boosting their online learning tools and are ready to transition students from classrooms to at home computers if the coronavirus impacts worsen.

This week, the University of Florida strongly recommended all professors move classes online. Now, Florida State University is telling professors to get ready to transition to online classes potentially beginning after Spring Break.

Closer to Tampa Bay, USF is not yet transitioning to online courses, but the university has canceled any large gatherings that include more than 100 participants such as conferences that include participants from other states or countries. The cancellation is in effect until mid-April.

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Meanwhile, K-12 schools across Tampa Bay tell ABC Action News that they’re ready to transition kids to at home lessons if necessary.

“We don’t want to be overreacting and closing schools if we don’t have to,” Pinellas County Associate Superintendent Kevin Hendrick said.

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The Pinellas County School District already has a program called FOCUS up and running where students can access homework and lessons when they’re out sick. It’s a program Hendrick believes could be expanded if the decision is made to close schools.

“If that was the case that we needed to do it for a week two weeks or whatever it is, we could certainly do it and feel confident students would get a good solid education. Kids interact now a lot digitally so this would not be probably as hard on the kids as on the adults,” Hendrick explained.

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What would that mean for working parents?

Joshua Rahmes, a Clearwater nurse, isn’t a parent himself but worries about his friends who have kids and also work full-time.

“Most of us can’t afford to have personal babysitters come to the house to take care of our kids while we work,” he added.

Tampa Bay Area districts tell us if it comes time to close schools, they’re looking into allowing small groups of students to meet at recreation centers or libraries to complete their school work.

Statewide, the Florida Department of Education says their virtual school will soon be equipped to handle 400,000 students, if necessary.

“We’ll have the training of an additional 10,000 teachers in short order over the next 15-20 days,” Richard Corcoran, Florida’s Education Commissioner said during a press conference.

Local districts tell ABC Action News they’ll follow health department guidance on decisions to close schools, which may happen on a school-by-school basis rather than district wide.

“Right now, parents need to know that our schools are good, they’re clean and they’re open so until that time we want to keep that face-to-face learning going,” Hendrick elaborated.

Bay area colleges and universities including USF, University of Tampa, St. Petersburg College, Eckerd College and Hillsborough Community College tell ABC Action News they are waiting to see if the coronavirus impacts worsen before deciding to move courses online.