St. Johns, Clay county teachers return to school for the first time since March

Clay High School teacher Ken Remsen gives a tour of his new classroom set up. (Screenshot via Twitter)

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – Teachers in Clay and St. Johns counties on Tuesday returned to school campuses for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close in late March.

This week was supposed to mark the return of students to campuses, but both districts decided to postpone the start of school, just one of many changes teachers have been forced to adapt to since the start of the outbreak.

“I can honestly say this is a very different year than I had ever done before, and I think that’s true for all of us. I’m so sorry for the first year teachers that are starting out,” said Karen Fluman, a first-grade teacher at R.B. Hunt Elementary School in St. Augustine.

Fluman is entering her 27th year as an educator and in many ways is having to start all over.

Teachers in St. Johns County focused on Schoology on Tuesday, the platform they use to deliver their distance learning lessons. It’s a new world for Fluman and other elementary school teachers.

“We are hoping to master that platform and make it a little bit easier to use for parents and for kids,” Fluman said. “We’re learning more about the tools that are in there just because we were thrown into it. Elementary school had never used Schoology before.”

Fluman said most likely instructors will be teaching students online and in-person when the school year begins.

Superintendent Tim Forson welcomed the teachers back to school during a school board meeting Tuesday morning.

“I think without question as employees came back today they thought about it, they watched the news like you and I have that there’s anxiety there’s a little bit of apprehension,” Forson said. “But I hope it’s they came in the building this morning and they saw comfort and familiar faces and new protocols and procedures and steps that are being taken to help us through this part of our American history, and world history. It is a historical time period and it is one that causes us to be alert and to be at our very best. And I know that our teachers and our staff will be at their very best as they come forward.”

In St. Johns County, Tuesday marked the first of three consecutive teacher pre-planning days that will be used to prepare them for the new challenges of the upcoming school year.

“It’s a little bittersweet. You know, you always look forward to returning to school and starting off the year you’ve had the summer to recharge, but there’s so much uncertainty right now,” Fluman said. “Are we gonna be able to stay open? Are we’re gonna have to quarantine? There’s so many unanswered questions to just in terms of all of our protocols that we still haven’t finalized.”

Ken Remsen, a computer science and mathematics teacher at Clay High School in Green Cove Springs, showed some of the changes in his Clay County classroom in a video shared by the school district on Twitter.

“Our new classroom situation is a little different,” Remsen said. “If you were here before we left in March, you would have seen a lot more furniture, bookshelves with books, you would have seen a lot more decorations on the wall, but all my decorations are basically lots of paper, so we can’t have that. So anything that was laminated we kept up on the walls.”

Remsen said some of the desks and tables have also been removed in the class and some of the extra books and supplies were moved to an adjacent office.

Teachers in the county have two more in-service days before Clay students are scheduled to return to classes Aug. 25.

Students in St. Johns County will come back Aug. 31.

“We’ll do what we have to do, and we’ll make it work,” Fluman said. “And we’re going to do, like we always do, we’re going to do what’s right for kids, and we’re going to do the best that we can for our students.”

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