While some students burst through the doors of their assigned school, others hunkered down in front of their computers in pajamas. Monday, August 24 marked an historic moment for Pinellas County Schools – opening during a pandemic.
The learning wasn’t just for the students, but for parents and faculty as well.
PCS offered parents three options for their children to return to school. If parents and students were uncomfortable returning to face-to-face instruction, PCS offered two online options.
Almost 60 percent of school-aged children in Pinellas County were enrolled in the traditional, face-to-face learning option this school year, according to figures from the school board.
Parents and students have had to learn to navigate the world of online schooling, while teachers have had to learn how to teach simultaneously to students in the classroom and students at home.
“It’s uncharted territory, but not impossible,” said Boca Ciega High School math teacher, and Gulfport Councilmember, Christine Brown. Brown also reported a few technological glitches on her end.
Parent Elicia Branca, who enrolled both of her children into the PCS Online option, has noted a few hiccups.
“The kids go to school online but remain enrolled in their schools. They have daily Zoom-style meetings where they are ‘in’ the classroom with their teacher and other students, both online and in the classroom,” said Branca. “The first week has been okay. Several teachers have had technical difficulties or haven’t shown up for class at all.”
Given this is an unprecedented process for teachers and schools, that may be a technical glitch as well.
“When the kids click the link for the live class meeting nothing happens,” said Branca.
Branca’s oldest, who’s in high school, has emailed the teachers to let them know.
“She waited by the computer to see if anything happened. One teacher popped in the chat and told them she was having issues but gave them an assignment that way. The other class it happens in they just type ‘here’ in the chat so they get credit and then just do whatever for that period,” said Branca.
Neither Branca nor her kids are the biggest fans on the online options.
“I’m hoping one day we can return to normal and they can go back. In-person learning is far superior, plus they need the social interaction and experiences that they can only get through going to school,” said Branca.
Another online schooling parent, Desiree Campos, has had similar experiences.
“On the first day my son said he wanted to go back to in-person schooling,” said Campos “It’s very confusing. Some teachers aren’t even showing up for the classes. He’s being marked absent despite being there and doing the work.”
Allison Kuhlman and Melissa Murray, who both have kids enrolled in the face-to-face option, have more encouraging experiences to report.
Kuhlman, parent of a kindergartener and a high school freshman in Pinellas County, feel confident in the COVID-19 protocols implemented at her kids’ schools, adding that, because the schools are at half capacity, it’s easier for students to socially distance.
“I think the school board did the best they could with keeping the schools clean and safe,” said Kuhlman. Her children “said they feel safe and that faculty is enforcing the protocols the best they can. All the kids were provided masks and are wearing them.”
“I feel that the first week has gone really well,” said Murray. “My seventh-grade student has felt that school has gone smoothly overall. My VPK child has absolutely loved school.”
Murray continued, “I feel as good about the precautions as I can. I feel that the county doesn’t have an adequate contact tracing plan, but that at the school level they’ve been great.”
However, Murray noted that her oldest said that kids weren’t wearing their masks on the bus.
Another parent, Kim Rebman, said that her daughters noticed kids having difficulties with their masks during recess.
“I don’t think some kids are doing that well with wearing masks, especially at recess. I’ve seen some of the first graders playing outside, not wearing masks and standing close together,” said Rebman’s youngest daughter who’s in fifth grade. “Some of the teachers aren’t doing a good job at enforcing these rules, especially during outside play.”
For school officials, the difficult first week has gone well.
“This opening week has been very successful,” said BCHS Principal Michael Vigue. “Our preparations over the summer with the facility to maximize our spaces to ensure social distancing and proper sanitation has allowed us to have a smooth opening. PCS did an excellent job providing flexible learning options to our families along with the technology for online learners when needed.”
Brown echoed Vigue’s sentiments.
“At BCHS, the students have been great,” said Brown. “I have not seen anyone who didn’t have a mask on. Principal Vigue extended the passing time between classes from seven to ten minutes so the teachers have time to sanitize the desks for the next class of students.”
“I don’t feel it to be necessary or mentally healthy to keep quarantined and not be allowed to venture out socially, into the outside world,” said Rebman. “We all need a sense of normalcy, especially children. As long as we continue to be cautious and practice social distancing, wear masks at all times and use sanitizers/cleaners and hand wash as often as possible, I feel we should be allowed to get back out and about once again.”
“The F2F students have been wonderful and very appreciative of their opportunity to return to school with their peers, teachers and staff,” said Vigue. “Our My PCS Online students have been able to access live lessons and use Canvas as a learning platform with their teachers and classes. At this point, I do not see the need to make additional changes after the first week here at the BCHS.”
For more information and regular updates go to PCSB’s website.