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Two-Week Opening Delays For Santa Rosa, Escambia Schools

Max Klingensmith/Flickr

About 40,000 students in Escambia County, and nearly 30,000 in Santa Rosa, are getting another couple of weeks off before returning to classes next month.

Tuesday’s announcement from Santa Rosa Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick was two-fold: learning options for students, and a delay in opening to August 24.

“Teachers will return to work for pre-planning on Aug. 17; that extra time is an important piece to be able to have that time to provide these opportunities,” said Wyrosdick. “Additionally, we will have some time to prepare and provide training for our teachers as they begin to institute this learning option.”

There are very specific reasons for the delay, according to the superintendent.

“First, if gives us an important piece of time to stand up our remote learning opportunity; and gives parents and students a little more time in which to evaluate the options and make educated decisions,” said Wyrosdick. “It also allows us to work on everything from transportation to minute academia. If you’ve never been inside of a school setting, those are huge lifts.”

As with other school systems, Santa Rosa is offering three forms of learning – face-to-face in the classroom, virtual, and remote – the latter, says Wyrosdick, allows students to walk alongside their peers who are in brick and mortar classrooms.

“However, it’s not instruction online all day,” said Wyrosdick. “Students will be asked to complete work offline at home and they’ll also be asked to have a learning coach, or an instructional coach to make that learning meaningful and useful.”

Parents have an Aug. 3 deadline to declare the learning method for their children.

“In the time frame in between, there’s a lot of work that we need to do to educate parents and students on the options available; and we will begin to do that immediately,” said the superintendent. “I will call home tonight, and we will begin to redirect parents to our homepage, which will have some resources.”

When it comes to student safety, Wyrosdick concedes that neither he nor his staff can keep COVID-19 from entering a school. But stringent safety measures will be in place, including the “M-word.”

“When possible and where possible we’re going to social distance without a doubt,” Wyrosdick said. “I want to protect students; certainly, I want to protect my employees. I’m asking parents for their help. Please send your child to school with a face covering, and tell them to wear it. That’s important.”

And Wyrosdick made a promise to parents, along with a reassurance that is not a repeat of the spring —when COVID led to a shutdown of physical classrooms in favor of virtual ones.

“The difference in the spring is that in six days, we stood up a school, basically, for students,” said Wyrosdick. “This is far different from that. A-it’s more rigorous; B-it’s much more accountable.”

Further details are expected to be announced at the Santa Rosa School Board meeting on Thursday.

Meantime, the Escambia County District will also delay the start of their school year to August 24. Okaloosa County School District also announced Tuesday that the schools' start date has been pushed to Aug. 31.

Escambia Superintendent Malcolm Thomas is recommending a change in the reopening plan because of an unexpected surge in signups for virtual and remote options.

“The primary reason for the delay, as you know we’ve offered three options to our parents,” Thomas said. “They’ve had a couple of weeks to make their choice.  When this started, we anticipated that approximately 15-20% would choose what we call Remote or Virtual option. Those numbers have grown, they’re now at approximately 40% choosing Remote or Virtual, which is double what we thought.”

Like their Santa Rosa counterparts, Escambia County teachers will report on Aug. 17. Another obstacle is the lack of time to get teachers up to speed on remote and virtual, including a required course from the state.

“We were not prepared. We do not have teachers trained, particularly on the virtual side, to do that large of a number,” Thomas contends. “So, we need the time to prepare the teachers, so that when we start school on the 24th, every student, with the option they chose are going to receive that high quality instructional opportunity.”

Face coverings will be worn in district facilities as directed by staff and instructional leaders. One possible silver lining, says Thomas, is that with more virtual and remote students, they might catch a break on social distancing.

“Because so many parents have chosen virtual and remote, that means there will be fewer students on our campus,” said Thomas. “So, it’s about half our students are going to be on our campus in the building. That helps us immensely with the distancing issue. The hallways will not be nearly as crowded. The cafeteria has more space. Even the bus is likely to have more space.” 

The two-week delay is really no big deal, says Thomas. The school year is still scheduled to end on June 2, and teachers will still be paid for the entire month of August.