A little more than half of Polk public school parents say they prefer that their children use distance-learning options instead of returning to brick-and-mortar schools when classes resume this fall, according to an initial tally of forms the parents filled out.

The deadline for parents to submit an online form indicating their school preference has been extended to 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 2.

The original deadline had been this past Monday, and by then school officials had heard from parents of 61.2% of the nearly 90,000 students expected in the coming school year.

Results released by Polk Public Schools show that of the parents submitting the forms by Monday:

  • 46% favored returning to school in a face-to-face, brick-and-mortar format.
  • 45% favored Campus eSchool, which allows students to remain enrolled in their current school but take part in highly structured virtual learning.
  • 9% favored Polk Virtual, a program that allows students the ability to fulfill their K-12 educational requirements entirely online.

“The data collected will help PCPS plan for the upcoming school year, ensuring it has enough staff members assigned to each learning option,” according to a news release.

Teachers were given four options for return. They also had a Monday deadline to state their preference, but can alter their choice until 5 p.m. Thursday.

Teacher responses were:

  • 38.1% preferred face-to-face assignment
  • 29.1% are equally comfortable with a face-to-face assignment, Polk Virtual assignment or Campus eSchool assignment
  • 27.7% prefer Campus eSchool
  • 5.1% preferred Polk Virtual

Polk public school classes are tentatively scheduled to reopen Aug. 24. The start of classes was delayed two weeks because of continued high numbers of new COVID-19 cases, and officials warned that the start date could be pushed back farther if numbers do not decline.

Polk School Board members were presented with the initial results of the parent and teacher polling at a work session on Tuesday.

Principals will be asked to reach out to parents who have not submitted their return-to-school survey to assess their intentions, Acting Chief Academic Officer Michelle Townley told board members.

Students whose parents do not respond will be assigned to return to brick-and-mortar schools but can later choose eCampus learning, she said.

Now that survey results are in, principals will draft plans for each school matching student preferences with teacher preferences and their certifications, Associate Superintendent Teddra Porteous said.

“We will try to honor what (teachers) requested,” she said.

Among teachers requesting a distance-teaching option, first priority will go to those who submit medical evidence of coronavirus underlying conditions and are approved, she said.

At the work session, six of seven board members favored adding a requirement for face masks to the student conduct code.

The requirement would apply to students in kindergarten through 12th grade while on campuses. Some medical exemptions will be available.

The lone dissenter to a mask requirement was board member Sara Beth Reynolds, who expressed skepticism about enforcement and discomfort about any mask mandate.

According to a School Board news release:

“Students must wear a face covering that covers both the nose and mouth and fits snugly against the sides of a person’s face with little or no gaps at all times to ensure their own safety and the safety of other students and staff. Students must wear the face covering at all times when on school grounds or district-provided transportation, unless the student is involved in an approved activity when a face covering would not be appropriate. All face coverings must comply with general dress code and school uniform requirements.”

Board members also discussed rules on school buses, which was the subject of a press briefing Tuesday morning.

Students will be allowed to sit two to a seat on buses, contrary to CDC guidance that students ride only one person per seat in every other row, ABC Action News reported.

Under those restrictions, only 13 students would fit on a bus and it would be impossible to transport all students to and from school on time, according to Rob Davis, Polk County Schools’ transportation director.

“It would take all day to get students to school and by the time we got them there it would be time to turn around and take them home,” he said.

Other bus rules include masks for students and staff, hand sanitizing when boarding, boarding from the rear to keep students facing forward, frequent cleanings, pre-boarding temperature checks for staff, and keeping some windows and hatches open for greater air circulation, weather permitting.

Video: Tuesday’s School Board work session. The survey results discussion begins at 2:19:00.

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Barry Friedman founded Lkldnow.com in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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