JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – While students are being kept home from school in an attempt to stop the spread of the new coronavirus, virtual learning has been a hot topic.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the Duval County school district was not doing online classes and it was planning to reopen schools Monday. That changed quickly when Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced Tuesday evening that students will not return to campus until at least April 15.
Following the announcement, DCPS said it plans to deploy a new home education program starting on Monday — Duval HomeRoom.
“The Duval HomeRoom initiative will keep your child moving forward educationally with creative and familiar approaches to instruction appropriate for his or her grade level,” the school district said in a release. “Many of our activities will utilize learning platforms and programs your children routinely use. This instruction will be delivered in a way that your children can continue learning from the comfort of home while avoiding large groups as directed by health officials.”
Ahead of Tuesday night’s announcement, Dr. Diana Greene, superintendent of Duval County Public Schools, spoke with News4Jax at George Washington Carver Elementary School, where students were receiving free lunches. She said the district will be working to make sure students have the resources they need.
“Our chief issue or challenge will be, if we have to go in this direction, reaching out to those families that may not have connectivity or the hardware and how we can get those resources to them,” Greene said.
For those who don’t have internet access, Greene said that the district is considering issuing work packets, internet hot spots and laptops.
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Phyllis Edwards and her six grandchildren stopped by Carver Elementary Tuesday to pick up their free lunches while school is closed this week because of the coronavirus threat. Despite the school closure, she said that her grandchildren are still learning online.
“My grandkids have been doing that i-Ready,” she said.
Now that schools will be closed even longer, Edwards said that it could be a challenge for her family.
“They would have to take turns because I have five boys in one family and three of them are in school, so for each one of them to have a computer alone, to sit there and do it, they’d have to take turns,” she said.
Edwards added that she worries about her grandchildren staying focused on their online classwork.
“A lot of parents work. If they’re not there, they don’t have a single-parent home with them, so it’s a challenge. We’re waiting to see," Edwards said.
Greene also News4Jax that a lot of the online software that the district uses for online classes can be used on a smartphone. Fortunately, a lot of students have smartphones, so if they don’t have computers, they can hopefully use their phones as another option.
Parents were asked to complete a survey by Friday to let the district know if their family does not have computer access at home. If a household has more than one student, the district encouraged parents to submit an entry for each student.
Visit https://dcps.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_4TxWSwquHBgd3lb to access the survey.
DCPS said it will begin sharing more details and answering questions for how the Duval HomeRoom initiative will work on Wednesday. The district encouraged parents to check the district website at least once a day for updates and directions.
“While this is a brand new way to experience education, we truly understand this will be challenging for many families, and we will be available to support you remotely,” the district said. “We ask for your patience, understanding, and feedback as we transition and work through the inevitable challenges we experience along the way.”
In an effort to make sure all students have the ability to access virtual learning, the state plans to redirect unspent education funds to help low-income students get digital devices and internet service.
Comcast is helping by offering short-term free internet access for families that qualify.