Are Florida virtual schools ready to handle coronavirus surge?

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Concerns about coronavirus have the state’s leadership looking at digital learning options for K-12 schools. Plans so far include a beefed-up Florida Virtual School.

Florida’s colleges and universities will hold only online classes for at least two weeks following their spring breaks. Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said he’s working on plans to do the same thing for public schools.

“We’ll have capacity here," Cocoran said. “It will grow day by day, but we’ll have capacity probably for a total of 400,000 -- over the 40,000 we have now for the virtual school. We’ve ordered 15 new servers.”

But 400,000 seats would cover fewer than 20 percent of current public school students in Florida.

One option is assigning students certain hours of use outside the school day.

“In addition to that, we have trainers of how to get on to the virtual system with the existing teachers. We’ll have training of an additional 10,000 teachers here in short order, hopefully in 15 or 20 days,” Corcoran said.

The commissioner does not believe the expanded online capacity will be needed and said each district is working to decontaminate every school every day.

Various school districts are across the state are surveying students to learn which ones have computers at home. Rural districts are particularly concerned.

“We are way behind the game,” said Chris Doolin with the Small County Coalition.

Another concern is a $20 million budget shift from digital classrooms to what is called the base student allocation, but Rep. Chris Latvala, R-Dunedin and son of House Speaker Jack Latvala, said the money could still be used for digital learning.

“So they can still use them how they wish,” Latvala said, adding he doesn’t foresee any issues arising.

The plan is still developing, just as the budget shift is still a work in progress, but the hope is it is a lot of planning for nothing.