In a televised appeal to families concerned about COVID-19, Gov. Ron DeSantis said this week that if districts want to delay the new school year for a few weeks, “Have at it.”
And districts are doing just that.
More than half of Florida school districts have delayed their first days of school for the 2020-21 academic year, or are seriously considering it. As it stands now, children across Florida will be returning to classes somewhere between August 10 and August 31, depending on the district.
Most school districts expected to return to classes August 10. Now, almost 30 school districts out of the 67 Florida counties have moved their first day of the academic school year to the latter half of August—and at least 10 others are considering the same.
The Phoenix compiled the school calendar changes from school board websites, interviews with districts officials, and media outlets, finding that school districts have different views on the start dates that will make families and educators feel comfortable in returning to the classroom.
For example, Columbia County in North Florida is moving their reopening date to August 13, just three days later than originally intended.
Meanwhile, seven districts spanning Florida’s geography have elected to return to school as late as August 31: Charlotte, Gadsden, Hernando, Escambia, Sarasota, St. Lucie, Lee, Volusia, and St. Johns counties.
In contrast, almost all counties along the Gulf Coast of the Panhandle are keeping their initial start date. The outliers in that part of the state are: Walton, with a start date moved to August 17; Escambia, with a start date moved to August 27, and Okaloosa, start date moved to August 31.
Some school boards have voiced their support in pushing back the start date but haven’t officially voted yet on any changes.
While several factors are considered before moving the start date, one of the main reasons cited by district officials is to give teachers and schools more time to prepare for the upcoming academic year while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
In a Facebook comment, Wendy Stalbaum, a high school math teacher in Citrus County, said that one of the reasons her district pushed back their date to August 20 is because they received a large influx of families that were interested in virtual options.
That means district officials may need to hire teachers for virtual instruction and other efforts.
“Right now, over 2,600 students are signed up for the full time virtual learning option,” Bay News 9 reported for Citrus County while covering the school calendar change.
Okaloosa County has not officially changed dates, but School Supt. Marcus Chambers will be recommending a starting date of August 31 to the Okaloosa County School Board.
In a written statement, Chambers said it would help “enhance preparations and to provide training to all staff on the new protocols that will be in place this fall.”
Nicky Alexandrou, a fourth grade teacher in Osceola county, said that Okaloosa teachers will receive additional training known as “professional development.” She will be teaching online this school year.
“Teachers who will be teaching online classes will attend professional development to enhance and learn how to deliver/teach the curriculum online,” Alexandrou shared in a Facebook comment to the Florida Phoenix.
“We will also attend [professional development] that addresses teaching safely during the Pandemic. Teachers will also begin preparing their classrooms as best they can using CDC guidelines as a resource. Of course it is not possible to apply all of the CDC recommendations because of the lack of funding” she added.
In other districts, even those that are expecting to return to their brick-and-mortar classrooms, will likely be working with online learning platforms, too.
“Basically, we all kind of feel like we’re going to go virtual, 100%, anyways. If this starts spreading like mad, we’re going to have to shut down the schools down,” a teacher from Lee County shared with the Florida Phoenix over phone. The educator did not want to be identified in this story.
“Or, if your child gets a fever on Tuesday and we send them home, we may not see them back until Monday. So, we may have to teach them virtually,” the Lee teacher added.
Lee County School Board voted Thursday to postpone their first day of school until August 31.
“I’m sure when we actually start going back to school, there is going to be a lot of adjustments made as we see what is working and what is not working–or even things we realize we never even thought of until they happen in the moment, the Lee County teacher said.
Here are other school districts that have postponed their start date to later in August: Alachua, Brevard, Collier, Indian River, Jackson, Lake, Leon, Manatee, Marion, Orange, Palm Beach, Pasco, Polk, Seminole and Sumter.