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Hillsborough superintendent says first week of eLearning is crucial for all students

With the uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus and the chance of a school outbreak, Hillsborough is using the first week to prepare students for the new normal.

TAMPA, Fla. — The phrase "new normal" is becoming a cliché at this point in the pandemic, but there's no other way to explain what's happening in schools across America.

In Hillsborough County, that new normal has changed a lot differently in the past three weeks.

The district originally accepted a plan that gave parents the choice between in-person or online learning. The plan met the criteria established by the Florida Education Commissioner's executive order, and the Florida Department of Education accepted that plan on July 23.

However, on Aug. 6, the Hillsborough School Board held a special meeting to consult a panel of medical experts about returning to in-person learning. They voted to delay opening physical schools for four weeks, meaning all students would start the school year online. This plan was rejected by the state leaving the district little choice but to open their schools by Aug. 31 as mandated in the executive order.

On Aug. 13, the superintendent announced the district's final plan for the 2020-21 school year: online for everyone for the first week starting Aug. 24 and then opening physical schools on Aug. 31 for those students who want to receive in-person instruction.

The district is calling the first week online "Smart Start Week," with daily attendance and a structured schedule.

Superintendent Addison Davis says that week will be crucial for all students, parents and teachers regardless of the model of learning you selected over the summer.

"We need to make sure every one of our students are logging on, connecting with their teachers and this week is all going to be about how they interact with their curriculum, how they interact with their teachers, safety protocols, the health and wellness overall," Davis said.

Students who intend to stick with eLearning for the first nine weeks should use this week to get accustomed to Canvas, the new learning management system the district is using this year. All parents and students will want to be familiar in case their child has to quarantine for an extended period of time.

"We know there could be potential positive cases of COVID within our classrooms and hallways so this is where our beautiful relationship with the department of health comes on board, we start to contact trace and identify those students who have been involved and they will begin to transition (to eLearning) immediately if exposed," Davis said.

Starting Aug. 24, all students will be expected to be engaged and present online via Canvas meaning families need to have secure internet along with computers or tablets.

In March, Hillsborough County Schools handed out more than 40,000 devices.

"Somewhere between 40,000-55,000 devices that we may have to extend to our learners," Davis said about device distribution this school year.

Individual principals are working on reaching out to parents to determine the need for devices and internet for their learners. Some schools could start distributing devices as early as Tuesday, Aug. 18.

Davis says he wants parents to know they're prepared to create a safe environment for those students transitioning back to the classroom adding, "We have stockpiles of stuff, equipment, materials, hand sanitizer, wipes, you name it. We have stockpiled that."

As of Monday, Aug. 17, here is the break down of student selections in Hillsborough County Schools:

  • In-person: 78,588
  • eLearning: 72,775
  • Hillsborough Virtual: 9,113

The district did not get responses from roughly 59,000 students.

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