Are St. Johns County parents ready to abandon distance learning? The district wants to know

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – School leaders in St. Johns County want to know where families stand on distance learning and whether those students will be returning to the classroom any time soon.

A new survey that will be sent out to families with students in school-based distance learning is asking just one question — when the first quarter is over, will those students return or not?

In an email to St. Johns County families on Wednesday, Superintendent Tim Forson announced the district would no longer allow families to move students from brick-and-mortar learning to the school-based virtual learning format unless there’s a serious health risk involved.

Forson said the constant movement in and out of learning models is creating a challenge for staff, particularly teachers.

“The teachers are doing amazing work, but it is increasingly more difficult to manage both platforms throughout the entire day,” Forson said. “To provide the best instructional experience for your child, we need more consistency and fewer changes.”

Michelle Dillon, who leads the local teachers union, said she’s heard those concerns first-hand.

“Our teachers have had the students ping pong back-and-forth from the actual classroom to distance learning and it has created havoc not only for the teachers but I’m sure for the administrative staff, the principals, assistant principals and front office staff," Dillon said.

So, the district is now asking where families of distance learners stand on their instruction model.

A drafted survey letter is set to go out to those families asking them whether they plan to return to campus when the second quarter begins on Nov. 2 or continue with distance learning until the emergency order expires on Dec. 18.

Parents are asked to respond to the survey by next Wednesday.

Here’s a snapshot of the school year which began Aug. 31:

  • 12,067 students participated in distance learning
  • 1,291 students moved from campus to distance learning
  • 2,752 students moved from distance learning back to campus
  • 44,175 total students in the district

But the mechanism for students to leave brick-and-mortar for virtual learning isn’t going away. Students might still test positive or join the 665 St. Johns County students who are currently in quarantine.

Dillon said it’s never just a quick transition.

“It requires restructuring of lesson plans, that class roster looking at attendance,” Dillon said. “What does this child need at home? What does this child have at home? Do they have a printer? Do they have someone who can stay home with them and help them with the assignments? So it’s constantly, constantly thinking on your feet and changing and adapting, and a lot of work that goes home after the contractual hours.”

One thing that’s not changing and adapting, the superintendent said, is the health and safety protocols in the schools. Hygiene practices, masks and social distancing will still be strongly encouraged.

News4Jax spoke to several parents Thursday about their intentions for the next quarter and many said they’ll be moving back to brick-and-mortar but some said they’re still hesitant.

News4Jax asked the district if the option for school-based distance learning will expire in December with the emergency order but a spokesperson did not reply before this story was published.

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