Florida’s K-12 schools shift to online education, but students, families and teachers may not be prepared

School Entrance sign. Credit: CD Davidson-Hiers

As the coronavirus pandemic expands in Florida with more than 1,400 infections and several deaths, K-12 schools are resuming education through distance learning technology until at least April 15.

All school districts are prepared to launch their distance learning plans by March 30, According to the Florida Department of Education.

But transitioning to online instruction may be difficult for many families throughout the state that don’t have access to resources and technology for their kids to continue their education.

Internet providers such as Comcast are now offering services at discounted rates. For example, Comcast services will be free for 60 days to families, with  internet access at a reduced monthly rate after that, according to Broward County school officials.

Broward County has one of the highest numbers of COVID-19 infections in the state, and the district also is planning to send digital devices to families in need.

Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie said in a video news release that his district has “been planning for learning continuity.”

“Our campuses are closed, but instruction and learning are still open,” Runcie added. “We have three strategies to ensure learning never closes. First we are distributing digital devices…we are prepared to deliver up to 90,000 devices to our community.”

Broward’s distance learning is through Canvas, a learning management system that is also used by college students at Tallahassee’s Florida State University. The system provides content and digital version of textbooks and other learning materials.

Utilizing Canvas may not be as tough for teachers in Broward since most of them have already been using it, Runcie said.

But some educators who are used to face-to-face instruction with students may need additional support when it comes to remote learning.

“Some of them [teachers] need professional development for us to train them in non-traditional, distance learning platforms,” Leon County Schools Superintendent Rocky Hanna said at a Tuesday news conference in Tallahassee.

“We still have the two-phase academic plan,” Hanna said. “Phase one will be rolling out packets. Those packets will be available online to parents, students and families on Friday. And then on Monday if you don’t have access, you can go to your school and pick up a hard copy.”

Hannah explained that the “review packets” will help teachers get adjusted to online instruction and they will have two weeks of training on the new technology.

School closures may result in an extended year for students, to ensure kids meet all educational requirements.

The Department of Education said in an announcement that “school districts should be prepared to extend their educational calendars through June 30, 2020, to the extent feasible and necessary.”

“Our direction from the department has been to stay on the current calendar, stay on schedule, we are to send our plan to the Department of Education,” Leon’s Hanna said. “It’s due by the end of the week…but our goal and our plan is to finish on schedule May 29.”