POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Polk County Public Schools has delayed the start of the upcoming school year by at least two weeks.

During a virtual meeting Tuesday morning, Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd proposed reopening both virtual and brick and mortar schools on August 24 instead of August 10, citing rising coronavirus cases in the county.

“We are trending upward with the rise of COVID-19 cases, not only in the state but right here in Polk County,” Byrd said. “At this time, I do not feel it is safe to physically reopen schools on Aug. 10.”

If the spread of the virus remains high, the school board could push back the start of the school year even further, the superintendent said.

Under the new schedule, teachers would return to school August 17 instead of August 3.

School board officials will officially vote Tuesday night to adjust the school year calendar accordingly.

“It’s our communities. It’s our lives. It’s our people’s lives. This is an act of defiance and I’m proud we’re doing it,” said school board member Billy Townsend.

In Tuesday’s release, the school board announced three new learning options for the upcoming school year:

  • Campus Learning — Students return to campus and interact in person with teachers and classmates. Various health and safety protocols will be put into place. Students will receive standards-based instruction from a certified teacher. There will be structured class times. Transportation and meals will be provided.
  • Campus eSchool — Students remain enrolled in their zoned, choice, or magnet school of acceptance, but they participate in online learning. Students will be expected to log in at a certain time, and there will be specified times for the various subjects, such as math, science and language arts. Parents serve as learning coaches and monitor students on completing their assignments. For planning purposes, we are asking parents to make a quarterly commitment to eSchool, if they determine this is the learning format that is best for them and their child. 
  • Polk Virtual School — Students enroll in PCPS’ longstanding virtual school program with online lessons taught by PCPS teachers. Students work at their own pace and can set their own schedule. Time management and self-motivation are essential. Parents serve as learning coaches and monitor students on completing their assignments. For planning purposes, we are asking that families who select Polk Virtual School to make a semester-long commitment.

Parents must register their children with one of these options by July 27.

The head of the Polk Education Association, the union representing teachers, supported the decision to delay the opening of school but believes school should open exclusively online on August 24.

“It is going to come to our constitutional officers, our seven elected board members to really make the vote to say, no, we are not opening our brick and mortar schools. We have to continue in our distance learning form for the health and safety of our staff and our community,” said Stephanie Yocum.

To read more about the three learning options this year, click here.