Coronavirus: Hillsborough schools out millions; new plan in place for students

Coronavirus

TAMPA, Fla (WFLA) – The coronavirus pandemic is having a tremendous impact on the Hillsborough County School District, so they are rolling out an extensive response plan to ensure student success.

For the past two weeks, the Hillsborough County School District has been planning their COVID-19 response. It started this week during their “Set-Up for Success” week where students and teachers began playing around with their new virtual classrooms. It also allowed the district to work out any kinks with the system.

“We were ready to go this Monday, but then we realized the program just couldn’t handle everyone in the district, better yet, the nation all trying to get on at the same time,” Hillsborough County’s Superintendent, Addison Davis said.

Davis says although teachers and students had complications originally, they were fixed in a matter of hours. Now the district is getting ready to officially launch their E-Learning program Monday, March 30.

“The plan is to role out on Monday, March 30th and the E-Learning plan will be about great communication using ESPY through our teachers to our students and pushing out assessments and assignments and just really having that back and forth conversation to better support learners in this type of situation,” Davis said.

Davis spoke to Eight on Your Sides’ Deanne Roberts about the several plans the district has to get through this E-Learning plan. To begin with, the district passed out thousands of laptops to students in need, so that they can access their new virtual classrooms.

“We have 51,000 laptops to distribute and we ordered an additional 30,000 to extend to our learners as well,” Davis said. “Each student who needs one will get one.”

Davis said parents can get laptops for their students until Friday. Davis recognized the issues some grade levels may have with the new E-Learning program. He says teachers have options. They can either use Edsby, a program where they upload and post assignments or use a program called Zoom that has live interaction between students and teachers. He encourages teachers with younger students to use Zoom.

“Both teachers and students miss that personal connection that’s why Zoom is perfect,” Davis said. “Teachers can decide how they want to handle instruction, but Zoom allows them to be live with their students.”

During this time, the district is delivering meals to students. So far, more than 60,000 meals have been delivered through their 23 distribution sites. Davis says they are expanding their services to nearly 150 sites to reach more students.

“Right now we are looking at an overall free and reduced lunch heat map to show us where there may be pockets of need,” Davis said. “Then we are trying to build thoughtful plans to be able to use transportation to go into those areas to be able to serve and address those immediate needs as of now.”

Davis says they are utilizing bus drivers, transportation employees and other district staff in order to carry out the meal services. He said the service is available for any child 18 or younger, regardless of their school in Hillsborough County. Davis says all employees with the district are considered essential at this time, and all will be used in some capacity while they battle this crisis.

“We are all essential and we are going to make sure we only bring back the essential personnel that are needed,” Davis said. ” I firmly believe we can be as efficient as we can remotely, but we just have to make sure we give our staff members the resources they need in order to do that.”

All of these plans has cost the district millions of dollars, according to Davis. He couldn’t tell 8 On Your Side an exact number, but he says their response has resulted in the district coming out of their budget. Davis says it has all been for the sake of the children.

“We are having to address the issues with Farnell and we also cleaned Bryant because that was next door and adjacent, so making sure we have Lysol products within our school, wipes, hand sanitizer and taking the necessary precautions,” Davis said. “We are also having to buy deep cleaning equipment for our schools and we’ve had to buy 30 plus thousands of laptops which cost us millions of dollars, but that’s what we have to do for children.”

The district is still dealing with Farnell Middle School, which is where a person tested positive for COVID-19. Davis said the school is back up and running.

“Our team took immediate action.,” he said. “We had an external provider to come in. What they were were specialized in environmental mitigation and they came in within days and had the building back up and ready upon return from spring back.”

Right now schools are set to return on April 15, but that can all change. Davis says if that happens, the district is ready.

“If we do transition back to April 15th because that’s the date provided by the Department of Education we stand ready,” he said. “We also stand ready if the virtual process is extended to the end of the school year. We have thoughtful, thorough high quality lessons ready and prepared to go.”

Davis also reassured that graduations are still in place, for now.

“Right now all of our graduations are in motion, we don’t start graduations until May 21,” he said. “That’s a date that will allow us to get forthcoming information from the Department of Education, so if we are allowed to come back to school and they remove some of the requirements from the social distancing than we plan to have graduation.We are going to leverage our career and college coaches, our school counselors and all o four teachers to continue looking at their academic histories to make certain they continue to be on track to meet all of the requirements to obtaining their diploma.”

However, that doesn’t give students a fast pass to the next grade. Davis said teachers will still hold their students responsible and make sure they are upholding every standard to pass to the next grade.

“Promotional extension of grades are the priority of the teacher,” he said. “As a district, we don’t interfere with grades. The teacher has the sole authority to extend grades. All the transition and promotion requirements, there are some that are identified by the State of Florida, and students will have to meet those. The teacher will continue to work with school-based administration and parents to determine whether a student is intellectually, socially, emotionally ready to transition from one grade to the next.”

With all these plans in place, Davis believes the district will be able to get through this crisis. He says the district is constantly changing and adapting based on the situation. As far as the money, he hopes when everything is said and done, the district can get some money back from FEMA.

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