BARTOW, Fla. — On Tuesday, Polk County School Board announced it is pushing back the first day of the 2020-2021 school year to August 24 at the earliest.
Before the announcement, students were set to go back to brick-and-mortar buildings on August 10, and teachers on August 3. Now, "teachers will begin undertaking some professional development on Aug. 17," according to a press release from PCPS.
“We are trending upward with the rise of COVID-19 cases, not only in the state but right here in Polk County,” Polk County Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd said. “At this time, I do not feel it is safe to physically reopen schools on Aug. 10. We need to delay the opening of school at least until Aug. 24. We will continue to monitor the situation with health officials and, if the spread of the virus remains high, we can further delay the physical reopening of our brick-and-mortar schools if necessary.”
For the upcoming school year, Polk County Public Schools is planning to offer the following three distinct learning formats:
- Campus Learning — Students return to campus and interact in person with teachers and classmates. Various health and safety protocols will be put into place. Students will receive standards-based instruction from a certified teacher. There will be structured class times. Transportation and meals will be provided.
- Campus eSchool — Students remain enrolled in their zoned, choice, or magnet school of acceptance, but they participate in online learning. Students will be expected to log in at a certain time, and there will be specified times for the various subjects, such as math, science and language arts. Parents serve as learning coaches and monitor students on completing their assignments. For planning purposes, we are asking parents to make a quarterly commitment to eSchool, if they determine this is the learning format that is best for them and their child.
- Polk Virtual School — Students enroll in PCPS’ longstanding virtual school program with online lessons taught by PCPS teachers. Students work at their own pace and can set their own schedule. Time management and self-motivation are essential. Parents serve as learning coaches and monitor students on completing their assignments. For planning purposes, we are asking that families who select Polk Virtual School to make a semester-long commitment.
Parents must register their children for one of these three learning options by Monday, July 27.
ABC Action News spoke with Deldrick Leonard, a middle school teacher who says he's not sure children will take the CDC guidelines seriously.
"You go into the restroom and don’t wash your hands and come out, that’s not funny. That’s not an "ah-hah" it’s a joke. Those are the type of things I’m concerned about that kids might take too far," Leonard said.
He also said he thinks taking a risk in sending children back to the classroom is unethical.
"Do you really want to take this chance? Do you really want to put someone’s child in a situation where they really don’t need to be because you want to stimulate the economy?" he said.
Board members also expressed their concerns about not being able to afford opening back up in the fall with all of the precautions the schools must take like plexiglass barriers at the front offices, extra staff for screening students before they enter school.
The transportation director for Polk County Schools, Vaughn Belcher, also pointed out getting children to school would be a logistics nightmare. Belcher said if most students go back to an actual classroom it could take two or three loads to get children to school while abiding by social distancing guidelines.
The school board is also providing and will continue to do social and emotional support for students and staff due to COVID-19.