JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In unprecedented times, Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools Dr. Diana Greene laid out an unprecedented plan Wednesday to make sure all 130,000 Jacksonville public school students continue their education even as campuses remain closed amind the new coronavirus pandemic.
“Two weeks ago, we brought children to the classroom. Beginning Monday will bring the classroom to the children,” Greene said. “This is like the first day of school all over again.”
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced Tuesday evening that students in the state will not return to campus until at least April 15. Following the announcement, DCPS announced plans to deploy a new home education program starting on Monday — Duval HomeRoom. The other 63 school districts across the state will start similar online plans in the weeks following spring break.
Greene provided more details about Duval HomeRoom during a press conference Wednesday evening.
Almost all of the instruction and instructional interaction for students in 6th through 12th grade will be moved to online learning platforms, Greene said, platforms those students are familiar with because they routinely use them in schools. Teachers and students will be able to connect in real-time online and in teleconferencing.
For elementary grade students, fully online education will be a challenge, she added, so starting Monday the district has decided to use district buses and other district staff to hand-deliver educational packets to students in kindergarten through 5th grade. The district will also use the same bus drivers to help deliver school lunches to students in need. Grab and go lunch will still be available at schools.
In an effort to make sure all students will be able to access their schoolwork online, 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. Parents can also call 904-348-5200 to complete the survey.
“Our priority will be to move existing laptops to students who need them, and then fill the gap for elementary students as quickly as possible,” Greene said. “Saturday and Sunday, we will endeavor to close the technology gap with delivery of laptops and air cards to high school and middle school students who need them. This objective will continue as long as necessary until we have connected every child.”
State education money now being used for in-school services will be repurposed to provide digital devices and even internet service for students who don’t have it.
Over the weekend the district will launch its comprehensive website for Duval HomeRoom that includes all the links and learning materials students will need, and instructions for families on where to start. The website will include bus routes information telling families where they can go to get the educational materials, and the school lunch, Greene said.
Monday will be an orientation to online learning day and a day for the district to assess where they are with student connectivity.
“By Friday of next week, March 27, our objective is that we will have almost all, if not all of our students fully connected and fully engaged in meaningful instruction,” Greene said. “We could have easily taken another week off, but the easy decision is the best decision. As a former teacher, and currently the superintendent. I am anxious for our schools and our educators to reengage with our children as quickly as possible.”
Greene said the new online system will allow many teachers to work from home and remain in self-isolation.
“Our goal is that we will be running our normal payroll,” Greene said. “We are looking at every employee group to ensure that this new way of work all employees are supporting Duval Homeroom, whether it is on buses, delivering instruction delivering food or supporting by calling students.”
Greene said the goal is for the district to end the school year as scheduled, but she acknowledged that the dates of some school events could change.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday that all state testing for K-12 students has been canceled. DeSantis also said he wasn’t ready to mandate that K-12 students continue virtual learning for the rest of the school year but didn’t rule it out.
The one thing the remote plan doesn’t address is how parents can supervise their children during the day. One hope is a federal stimulus check could provide funding for someone to take time off or to hire someone.