Polk Co. teachers union pushing for e-learning ahead of presentation to school board

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — The president of the union representing Polk County teachers is not giving up the fight for a majority of students to learn through e-learning when they return to school next month.

This week, the Department of Education ordered all schools to reopen campuses in August.

Stephanie Yocum, president of the Polk Education Association, points to language in the emergency order from the department that allows school districts to make decisions based on safety.

“We think our e-school option is going to be approved. It does meet that criteria for that innovative teaching platform,” Yocum said.

Polk County Public Schools spokesperson Jason Geary told 8 On Your Side the school district’s view is that plans including in-person and virtual learning will be approved.

“Our reopening task force has been diligently working to finalize recommendations for physically reopening our schools as well as offering virtual distance learning options to our families for the 2020-21 school year,” he wrote in a statement.

“We didn’t sign up to necessarily be martyrs,” Yocum said.

Yocum sits on the Polk County school reopening task force, which has been meeting to devise plans for students to safely return to school.

The task force will present plans to the school board next Tuesday that include in-person classes, virtual school and e-learning.

“We wanted to give students and teachers options to stay tied to their current school of enrollment or current school of employment while teaching those students without having to go to Polk Virtual,” said Yocum.

Yocum acknowledges that when schools suddenly closed in March and things went online quickly, it left much to be desired.

“We wanted to make sure that the e-school option mirrored the structure of campus learning as much as possible. We found that in the fourth quarter that letting it really have no structure at all and we were in that emergency crisis mode, we recognize that learning did not reach its full potential,” she said.

Her plan would include structured hours of classes, attendance and teachers live streaming lessons.

Yocum believes the school district could offer in-person classes to students who lack resources at home.

“We can work on those inequities that we saw in the fourth quarter with the access to digital devices and WiFi. We can work on those things with community partners and even possibly bringing small pockets of students into school to be served,” she said.

Teachers are weary about safely returning to school.

“In order to save any system, you must first save the people who are in those systems,” said Shawanda Bonner Morgan, a longtime Polk County teacher who is set to begin teaching 10th grade at Kathleen High School.

She supports a plan heavy on e-learning.

So does Lyndsay Gendreau, an elementary school teacher in Davenport.

Courtesy Lyndsay Gendreau

Her 2-year-old son Connor has asthma and a condition that forced surgeons to remove part of his lung.

“He gets a common cold and he ends up in the hospital for one or two days on oxygen,” she said.

She believes social distancing her more than two dozen students would be impossible.

“There’s a way to do e-learning, it’s just giving the teachers the ability to be trained on it properly,” she said.

The task force is set to present its plans to the school board at a work session Tuesday morning.

Plans must be submitted to the state for approval by July 31.

Teachers are set to return to work Aug. 3. The first day of school is Aug. 10.

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