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Is Duval HomeRoom the new standard for weather-related school closures?

Switch to full-virtual classes ‘made sense for this situation,' district spokesperson says

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Duval County Public Schools students spent Thursday attending virtual classes via Duval HomeRoom, the district’s school-based online learning format, due to the predicted impacts of Tropical Storm Eta.

For many students, it was their first time using the format since the end of the Spring 2020 semester, which was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. And, as several families told News4Jax, the abrupt change of formats did not come without some issues.

“One teacher communicated and told us what was going on,” said Trayo Carlson, a mother of two. “Another teacher went off and did his own thing, no communication until [8 a.m.] this morning.”

Another parent, Courtney Tompkins, said one of her student’s classes had to deal with technical woes.

“When [the teacher] would write something out, it would take about five minutes for the whole class to see everything because of loading issues, or they don’t have great internet — stuff like that,” Tompkins said. “So it just made the whole process go very, very slow.”

RELATED: Some Northeast Florida schools close ahead of Eta’s arrival

While a couple of elementary school parents said they didn’t have the necessary equipment because they had already returned their district-issued laptops, the district said those devices haven’t been collected en masse yet, so that was not a widespread problem.

Besides those hiccups, most families who spoke with News4Jax said they were prepared for the sudden switch to virtual learning, in large part because the pandemic made it a daily possibility last school year.

“It was always understood that we would be the designated virtual site in the event that there were...some self-quarantining, whatever,” said Deborah Fonzelle, a grandmother to four students. “So...that’s why I said the contingency plan is aworking. So whether it’s a 24-hour notice or less, we’re ready.”

Superintendent Diana Greene announced the decision to switch in a Wednesday evening news conference, saying it was made out of an abundance of caution due to possible transportation issues that could arise if the storm dumped rain in already flood-prone parts of Jacksonville.

While the district chose to switch students to virtual learning in this case rather than simply canceling classes for the day, DCPS spokesman Tracy Pierce said it will not be the contingency plan for any weather-related closure.

“We had the capacity to handle it this way and it made sense to do it this way today,” Pierce said. “Clearly, being able to switch to online instruction is a new tool in the toolkit.”

Pierce added that each storm or other event that might trigger school closures is different, so those will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Greene posted a message on social media Thursday afternoon, adding that there would be no academic penalties for those families that experienced connectivity or technology problems.


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