JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sixth graders in Duval County schools returned to the classroom full time Monday. Hybrid learning will come to an end for seventh and eighth graders next Monday and for high school students will return to school buildings on Sept. 28.
Duval County School Board member Lori Hershey said the district has received mixed reaction to converting from a hybrid of online and in-person teaching to full-time education back in the classroom. She said the last few weeks have given them the experience needed to handle any issues that may arise with more students on campus.
But Hershey has one message for teachers and parents.
“Here is one thing we have to remember: what we do outside of the school day can have an impact on the people that we work with and people in our classes,” she said. “I am familiar with one incident where a couple of teachers became ill with COVID but that was due to them attending a party over the weekend. And I think we just have to remember we have to remain diligent about practicing social distancing and wearing masks both inside and outside school because what we do on our own time can impact the people that work around us.”
Epidemiologist Dr. Jonathan Kantor said he doesn’t envy school leaders with the decisions involving returning students to in-person learning.
“We’re really performing a very, very kind of high stakes natural experiment here to see kind of what happens. And I think we’ve already seen as colleges and universities have opened that there have been a lot of challenges that when you increase the density of the kids that are in classes and other kids that are outside of classes and other activities, that you really do see an explosive growth in the spread of the virus,” Kantor said.
Hershey also hopes with the hybrid model ending thousands of students who did not enroll in person or online at the beginning of the year will now return to class. Not only do the children need to be in school to not fall behind, but the district needs the money.
“Schools and school districts are allocated based on student attendance, so the more students we have in our classrooms and enrolled in our schools, the more money that comes into the district,” Hershey said. “And obviously, as that number decreases, it has a significant financial impact on the district.”
She is confident that if there are budget shortfalls because of an enrollment decline, Superintendent of Schools Diana Greene would make needed adjustments to the budget.
Note: There has never been a hybrid learning model for elementary students and those enrolled in Duval Virtual School were never involved in the hybrid education and are not being affected by this change.