Central Florida school districts respond to governor’s education plan for spring semester

School districts must submit plans to state by Dec. 15

We’ve heard about learning pods when groups of families come together to pay an instructor. A group in Marion County is forming their own education pods called Virtual Learning Camps, or VLCs. Unlike the pods, VLCs are free and the students learn online through the Marion County Public School system. (WKMG)

ORLANDO, Fla. – As coronavirus cases continue to surge across the U.S. with the Sunshine State still accounting for thousands of new cases each day, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has shared the state’s plans for how schools should tackle learning next semester.

Speaking in Kissimmee Monday afternoon at Boggy Creek Elementary School, DeSantis said virtual and in-person learning options will remain available in the spring but with several changes.

On Monday, Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and DeSantis announced a new executive order extending virtual and hybrid learning options and how the state funds school districts.

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Corcoran said 24 counties will receive more funding because they saw growth in their student population. Districts who are not seeing the same growth were placed into a pool and the loss “was spread out” among the districts, totaling around $17 million, according to Corcoran.

The commissioner said Florida has other funding, as well as $500 million in unspent federal CARES Act dollars, to help mitigate these losses.

Another change leaders explained going into the spring semester is regarding students struggling with online learning.

“Parents must be notified if a student is struggling with virtual learning,” DeSantis said.

[FULL STORY: Florida’s COVID-19 spring education plan: No school closures, intervention for struggling virtual students]

Schools will still provide the parent the option to do virtual learning if they choose but unless they opt in, their child will need to return to in-person instruction.

Under the new executive order, all Florida school districts and charter schools must submit a new learning plan to the Department of Education by Dec. 15. These must include intervention plans for students underachieving through virtual or hybrid learning options.

News 6 reached out to each Central Florida school district for comment on Monday following the announcement and received the following responses:

Osceola County

In Osceola County, Superintendent Debra Pace said they have already been reaching out to parents encouraging failing students to return.

“We are getting very little push back,” she said. “When there is, that family that is having a true health conditions concern, we are working one-on-one with them to say, ‘What we have been doing is not working, what else can we do if you are not willing to bring that child back face to face?’”

Osceola district officials are also working on possible ways to intervene for those students who can’t return in person.

“Are we offering an extended day, for example, for our students struggling in January? Do we offer Saturday camps, or are we offering Wednesday afternoon remediation,” Pace said.

Once approved by the school board Tuesday night, Pace said there could be a survey for parents to enroll in their preferred learning option for next semester as early as Wednesday.

Lake County

In Lake County, a spokesperson said school officials are creating a team to help with the plans to be submitted by the Dec. 15 deadline.

Orange County

Orange County Public School officials said schools will be sending a statement to parents on Monday regarding plans for next semester.

“We appreciate Governor DeSantis’ and Commissioner Corcoran’s affirmation that we can offer parents the choice of LaunchED@Home or face-to-face learning for the second semester without a financial penalty to the district. We will continue to work closely with students who are struggling in LaunchED@Home who might need to return to face-to-face instruction. We are also pleased that current year funding cuts due to enrollment shortfalls have been minimized and can be supplemented with CARES Act dollars. We will thoroughly review the Commissioner’s new Emergency Order to further clarify direction,” district officials said in a statement.

In an update on Thursday, Orange County school district officials said they haven’t released details about their plans for spring but that a call, like the following, was sent by principals to parents on Wednesday detailing instructions for parents who wish to change their child’s learning option for the second semester.

The principal says in the call that children who are struggling with remote learning are encouraged to resume face-to-face instruction. If parents don’t wish to make any changes to their child’s learning model, no action is required.

According to the call, all changes should be made by Dec. 9 at 4:30 p.m.

Marion County

Marion County schools implemented policies that required failing students to come back for face-to-face learning, or parents had to come up with a plan on how to improve their child’s grades.

“Marion County Public Schools is already prepared to continue what we’re offering this semester. We’re confident the plan we submit will fully meet DOE requirements and quickly be approved for all learning options in the second semester,” said MCPS spokesperson Kevin Christian. “As for funding, we’re always concerned about cuts due to COVID-19 and lower student enrollment.”

Marion County school officials released another update on Thursday, saying students will have the same learning options next semester as they did in the fall, including one face-to-face option and two remote options. Leaders are encouraging any students struggling with virtual learning to return to the classroom.

“Students in Marion County Public Schools have the same options they’ve had all along:

  • Face-to-face learning (in person)
  • MCPSonline
  • MarionVirtual

These same options are available for second semester learning. For students struggling or failing core classes, we’re encouraging them to return to face-to-face learning.  Some students are signing “academic contracts” ... requiring them to improve academics, attendance, or discipline in order to remain online. If they break this contract, they’re required to return to face-to-face learning.  Finally, for families preferring online learning regardless, MCPSonline will continue but we encourage Marion Virtual, where students work more independently. The current MCPSonline option requires students to be in class and available throughout the normal school day. Marion Virtual offers something entirely different and more designed to a student’s own schedule preference,” school district officials said in a statement on Thursday. “Since first quarter, we’ve had over 3,000 students return to face-to-face learning. We anticipate at least 1,200 students on academic contracts. Overall, our numbers stand at approximately 81 percent face-to-face learning and 19 percent online.”

Volusia County

Volusia County schools have also implemented policies that required failing students to come back for face-to-face learning, or parents had to come up with a plan on how to improve their child’s grades.

“Volusia County Schools will continue offering in-person instruction in the traditional classroom, as well as virtual options including Volusia Live and Volusia Online Learning for the spring semester, in keeping with the updated emergency order announced Monday by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. VCS is already keeping parents informed if their virtual student is struggling academically. For those virtual students who are not making adequate progress, we are asking them to return to in-person instruction. And many already have. We saw a large transition at the start of the second grading period earlier this month. However, we also know some families are unable to send their students back to the traditional classroom – for health reasons, primarily. In those cases, our schools have worked with families on a case-by-case basis to determine what’s best for each family, and we will continue to do so while carefully following the requirements of the new state order. VCS continually monitors students’ academic progress, and schools are providing interventions to help struggling students succeed. That has been ongoing since September. We will continue to closely monitoring academic progress to ensure all students are progressing academically and will have the opportunity to acquire the necessary credits required for graduation. Currently, about 75% of VCS students are in the traditional classroom, 15% in Volusia Live (virtual, real-time, live streaming), and 10% in the Volusia Online Learning option (more flexible scheduling),” a district representative said.

Seminole County

A Seminole County Schools spokesperson said they already sent out a survey for parents to choose their learning option in spring, adding already 7,624 additional students say they plan on returning for face-to-face.

“In Seminole, all of our school administrators and teachers are monitoring our remote learner’s progress continually. If any begin performing poorly, we intervene with the student’s family on an improvement plan as needed,” said SCPS spokesperson Michael Lawrence.

Flagler County

Flagler County school officials say they’re also encouraged by the new executive order.

“We are currently working with our school-based leaders so we can submit our Spring Education Plan before the Dec. 15 deadline. We welcome the decision to keep all three learning lanes open. We will work with our parents and students who may be facing challenges to remote learning and find the best options for them going forward,” a spokesperson said in an email to News 6.

Brevard County

“Earlier today, Governor Ron DeSantis and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran announced all Florida schools will remain open for in-person instruction through the Spring 2021 semester. In addition, all school districts will continue to offer virtual learning platforms as an alternative option for families. Brevard Public Schools will continue to provide our families flexibility in choosing either e-Learning or face-to-face instruction and to put health and safety first throughout this prolonged pandemic. At this time, the district’s COVID-19 protocols and procedures, as detailed in our Reopening Plan, will remain intact with no changes for in-person, brick and mortar students,” district officials wrote in a statement. “In an effort to eliminate achievement gaps exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, the updated Executive Order (No. 2020-EO-07) also states that schools must notify parents/guardians if a student is falling behind academically as a result of virtual learning and recommend a return to in-person instruction. Families will be required to sign an opt-out agreement if they choose not to return their child to the classroom. Each school district is required to agree to several assurances outlined in the FLDOE’s Spring 2021 Education Plan and submit a plan detailing intervention strategies by December 15, 2020. BPS is currently reviewing these documents to determine next steps and will inform families of any changes.”

Brevard County school officials released another update on Thursday, saying they’re working on plans to submit to the state and will share more details once they’re approved.

“Brevard Public Schools will continue to offer e-Learning from home as an option for those families who remain apprehensive about sending their child/children back to bricks and mortar in the second term. We are in the process of responding to the FL Dept of Education’s recent request for a plan and assurances for how we will mitigate and manage those students who are struggling with the virtual learning platform and will share this information once it is submitted and approved by the state,” the statement read.

Sumter County

School district officials in Sumter County said on Thursday that they are not providing details about their plans for next semester until they’re complete because they don’t want to share inaccurate information.

“Those plans are being worked on. All decisions have not been made. The plan is due to the state on the 15th. You will be able to find it on our website at that time. I don’t want to share inaccurate or non-board approved information,” a district representative said.

This story will be updated as more districts respond to News 6′s request for comment.