Nearly two weeks into school, everyone from administrators and teachers to bus drivers and school nurses are having to adapt to new procedures and learning environments all thanks to the coronavirus.

Nevertheless, in this challenging time, with changes coming almost as fast as the holidays, learning has begun. Students and their parents have had the option of returning to classrooms, attending e-campus classes from the safety of their homes or taking classes through Florida’s Virtual School. Those who returned to their schools are required to wear face coverings, practice good hygiene, and social distance at school and on buses.

“This virus has been unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in my more than 30 years of working in public education,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. “It shuttered our public schools for weeks. It has required us to reassess and adjust every aspect of our operations. It has changed how we teach and how our students learn – possibly forever. It has dramatically slashed state revenues, and we expect a significant reduction to the school district’s budget. It has been personally and professionally taxing for us all. I am deeply proud of how our employees have responded to a situation no one could have imagined just a few months ago. They have remained committed to our students even when so much else in their lives has changed.”

Private schools throughout the county are implementing personalized plans for re-opening and coronavirus management. Lakeland Christian School has a plan that includes four stages should the virus invade the school. Students are encouraged to wear masks but are not required to.

“I am encouraged by the start to the school year for my middle and high school students,” said Jennifer Canady, director of the RISE Institute (Research, Innovation, STEM Learning, Entrepreneurship). “The biggest surprise is how quickly the students have adapted to masks. Positive peer pressure has developed as they encourage each other to wear masks, and wear them correctly.”

Canady said the school’s administration worked tirelessly, getting input from health care providers like Dr. Daniel Haight of Lakeland Regional Health, to develop policies and procedures to keep students and teachers as safe as possible. “We have a very positive faculty culture, which has looked at the 2020-21 school year as a challenge and an opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of our students.” she said. “We anticipate that there will be challenges along the way, but I am cautiously optimistic that we have a workable plan in place that will allow us to have a very successful school year.”

Director of Marketing & Communications Sandy Johnson said most students opted to start the school year attending classes in person. A small percentage are starting by attending classes virtually at “LCS Live.” “Students can watch a live feed of their teachers from home and submit work electronically. This option also allows students who may need to quarantine the opportunity to not miss class.”

Polk County Public Schools offers many of the same options. Here are five things you need to know.

WHAT CLASSES LOOK LIKE THIS FALL

  • Campus Learning: These classes will be held as normal, with students attending their brick-and-mortar schools.
  • Campus e-school: Students who opted for E-school will attend classes in a virtual environment. Students we’ll have to log in to their classes like those attending in person, complete assignments and participate. Parents will monitor their progress.
  • Polk Virtual School. Students who likely will not return to the classroom have this option, one way to complete their K-12 educational requirements.

“This has been a very challenging time for public education in many ways. In regards to online learning specifically, our teachers have quickly adapted to a new teaching platform and found new, creative ways to engage our students,” Byrd said. “Educators are innovative problem-solvers by nature, and we will see those qualities on display throughout our district this school year. I am so proud of the work our teachers have done and will continue to do this year.”

A SAFE ENVIRONMENT

The district has implemented a variety of safety measures related to a number of factors within the schools. purchased cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment (PPE) but will need more as the year goes on. Staples in Lakeland, Winter Haven and Davenport — with help from The Well, a Lakeland-based community business and culture center — are hosting supply drives to help. Until Sept. 15, customers receive a 20 percent discount on their purchase of hand sanitizer, face coverings and shields.

In addition, the Polk Education Foundation is accepting financial donations online at https://polkschoolsfl.com/pef/ or through the mail at 1530 Shumate Drive, Bartow, FL 33830 (note PPE in the memo line) to help pay for PPE.

Byrd is grateful for the support. “My staff and I have worked tirelessly since the virus emerged to develop safety protocols for our buses and buildings, and to ensure that we are providing an engaging, high-quality learning experience for our online students. Because I know how much thought, preparation, care, careful planning, and sheer hard work has gone into our reopening, I am confident — but cautious — as we begin the 2020-21 school year. For all our preparations, there is still so much we don’t know about this disease. I want to reassure our community that we will take every possible measure to safeguard our students and employees during this very uncertain time.”