Why a St. Johns County parent chose full-time virtual school over alternatives

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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Wendy Seth, like many other parents in St. Johns County, had a decision to make as the school year approaches.

She had to decide: Keep her children enrolled in St. Johns County schools, setting them up for a possible return to campuses in August, or move to full-time virtual school?

Despite some objections from her children — ages 11, 14 and 15 — she chose to withdraw them from their zoned schools and enroll them in St. Johns Virtual School for the 2020-2021 school year.

“I think the [COVID-19] numbers are way too high in Florida to open up the schools,” Seth said. “We view it as a very significant threat in our family. Some people view it as less of a threat.”

Wendy Seth, St. Johns County parent. (Copyright 2020 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

A poll released by the district last month found that 72% of parents felt comfortable sending students back to school on Aug. 10. But that was before the recent surge in cases, which has reached 10,000 new COVID-19 cases in a day.

Last week, the St. Johns County School District asked parents to make a final decision on the future of their children’s education by July 15.

The St. Johns County School District presented four options to parents, which include school-based brick and mortar learning and school-based distance learning. Parents also have the opportunity to enroll students in St. Johns Virtual School, a fulltime virtual school, or home education.

Cynthia Williams, Senior Director for Innovation and Equity, said since that call for action went out last week, 175 students applied for St. Johns Virtual School.

“We have seen an increase recently since options given to parents,” Williams said Monday. “All those students might not all get accepted because we want those students to handle the rigorous curriculum that this particular platform provides.”

With the increased demand, Williams said the district might have to move teachers around to help accommodate the influx.

Students are asked to commit to at least one semester, Williams said, but the district prefers if the students stay enrolled at the virtual school the whole year.

Seth said unless the number of cases in the state dramatically decreases, she plans to keep her children enrolled for the entire school year.

“If there was a huge flattening of the curve, then we would think about sending them back,” Seth said.

For now, the St. Johns County School District is planning to bring students back to campus on Aug. 10 with some restrictions in place. But Superintendent Tim Forson said if the current trend continues the district may not reopen campuses and could go back to distance learning.

When, and if, students do return to campuses and there is still moderate spread of COVID-19 in the community, the district is planning to require those riding the bus to wear masks and check the temperatures of students before school, according to a draft plan on the district’s website.

Under its current reopening plan, masks will be required on bus routes where social distancing is not possible and during dismissal for elementary students. Masks will also be strongly encouraged in classrooms and during transitions for all students.

Seth said she would like to see masks required at all times in schools and was disappointed by the decision by the St. Johns County Commissioners last week not to require masks countywide.

“By not doing that, it’s prolonging the ability to get children in school and keep them in school,” Seth said.

The St. Johns County School Board and superintendent will meet Tuesday again to discuss plans for reopening schools further.

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