ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – As students in St. Johns County prepare to return to school on Monday, St. Johns County School District Superintendent Tim Forson joined The Morning Show on Friday to answer a few last-minute questions about what they can expect when they finally return to classrooms.
Here’s what he had to say.
(Questions and answers edited for clarity. Watch the full interview above.)
Melanie Lawson: This is a big day for students and parents in St Johns County. Many students will meet their teachers for the first time today virtually. So what are some questions that maybe parents should be asking of their teacher today?
Tim Forson: I think the questions that probably many parents will ask and want to know just depends on where they are. If they’re brick-and-mortar then what my day looks like, what are some of the things I can prepare my child for before they come in on Monday, as far as procedures or protocol that might be different. If it’s distance learning, it’s just making sure that access is there for me and that I understand how to work through or navigate through with my son or daughter in that format. So I think it really depends on what the decision was by the parent and what format they’re going to begin the year in.
ML: It is the first day back on Monday and I’ve talked with some parents who are still on the fence about distance learning. They came in, they picked up their packet this week, and they’re like, ’I may want to go back to brick-and-mortar.’ So is that possible during this first week?
TF: Well, I think that’ll be hard to happen during this first week. I think, if a parent and family makes a decision to switch to one of the other platforms, if they’ll just contact the school and then as timely as they possibly can, they’ll work to transition them to the opposite platform, whether that be distance learning or brick-and-mortar. You know, we’re hopeful that we have great success this first couple of weeks and we’ll start to see that migration back into the building so that children can experience being there with each other and being there with their teacher.
ML: So let’s look at the enrollment numbers right now. You have more than 42,000 total enrollment about 25% are distance learning with 32,000 brick-and-mortar, so what will those virtual classrooms look like? You know, one thing that I was talking with some moms about is that they have two teachers maybe assigned to their class, while others just have one so they were wondering will that virtual teacher be interacting with the virtual students and then they’ll other teach other students will be watching the teacher teach, there’s a little confused on how that’s gonna go.
TF: Yeah, and I have to say that there’s not one clear answer to that because what schools had to do is devise an assignment and a schedule that was built on what the requests were from parents. And so from one school to the next, the number of distance learning students vary widely. So in some schools where there were some significant numbers of distance learners, the principal on the team may have been able to actually separate or cohort together the distance learners with one teacher. And then, in other situations, it’d be all brick-and-mortar. But I would tell you that in more of our classes, and this is a challenge to teachers, they are teaching both brick-and-mortar, they have children in front of them, and they also have children that will be online at the same time throughout the day.
ML: The school board voted on a very strict mask policy, spelling out consequences that students refused to wear masks after three times, they will be warned, their parent will be told, and then after three times they’ll be reassigned. So how do you think that will be enforced?
TF: One of the things about it, even with the mask policy, the emergency rule that we passed this week, it’s still not punitive. Masks are not in the Code of Conduct. The last thing I want to do is suspend or have disciplinary consequences for students. For a mask, it’s really about safety and security, it’s about protecting one another. Now, that doesn’t mean there won’t be consequences if a student is insubordinate or defiant...So I think it’s important to understand that the mask policy just formalizes a process by whichever student, just doesn’t wear that mask and they repeatedly don’t wear the mask. That’s putting other students and staff at risk. So in those situations, we have a process for it ultimately, and it really is a last resort, we could move a student from brick-and-mortar to distance learning for a period of time. And until we feel comfortable bringing them back into the building.