Polk school board member concerned about e-learning, urges community members to take action

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Polk County school board members are expressing concern about the future of e-learning as the school district awaits direction from the Florida Department of Education.

“I’m afraid e-learning is going to run out,” said Sarah Fortney, the sole school board member who still attends school board meetings virtually.

If they’re concerned about COVID-19, she wants students and teachers to continue to have the virtual option as well.

“It is easily transferable. It is highly contagious and I am being told that we have ADA-approved staff being put back into brick and mortar,” said Fortney, during a work session on Tuesday.

Questions arose during the meeting about the future of e-learning, the remote platform that keeps students enrolled in their schools with their teachers.

“Is there a mandate that everyone comes back in January?” asked Lisa Miller, a school board member. “For some reason, there’s an understanding that everyone will be returning in January.”

Polk County Public Schools administrators say they are waiting for direction from the Florida Department of Education.

The DOE’s executive order regarding e-learning and reopening schools expires after this semester.

“We will keep the board abreast of when the next executive order will come forward. I would think we would hear something after Thanksgiving, if not before,” said superintendent Jacqueline Byrd.

Upon hearing the news that Polk County Public Schools will follow the state’s direction, Fortney had a call to action.

“I’m going to urge this board, the district, and our constituents who want e-learning to stay through the second semester, to email the DOE, the governor, the commissioner of education, your representatives,” she said.

Superintendent Byrd said 8,000 more students will return to in-person learning on Wednesday, which means 59% of the student body will now be back on campus.

There have been 428 confirmed COVID-19 cases within Polk County Public Schools, according to deputy superintendent John Hill.

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