Coronavirus Spurs Florida Schools to Prepare for Virtual Education

The district will only close schools if an outbreak directly affects a school, a spokesman said. Local health officials' recommendations for the scope and duration of school closures will be made case by case.

by Anna Bryson, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla. / March 11, 2020
Dr. Anthony Fauci, left, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies before a House Oversight Committee hearing on preparedness for and response to the coronavirus outbreak on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Sitting alongside Fauci is Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. AP

(TNS) — As the number of reported cases of coronavirus continues to rise in Florida, with two confirmed cases in Manatee County, the Manatee County County School District is preparing an at-home learning system in case of a potential outbreak in schools.

While there has not yet been an outbreak in schools that the district is aware of, officials are creating plans for students to continue their education if schools were to close.

"We have designed and established, for pre-K through grade 12, what we're calling instructional continuity e-learning plans," said Genelle Yost, deputy superintendent of instructional services. "This is not just for this potential outbreak of coronavirus but for any emergency; we have the ability to place instruction in the hands of our students electronically."

The district would use a virtual learning system called Schoology and said it has devices and internet hotspots that can be distributed to students at home.

"The social networking service for K-12 schools and higher education institutions, again, allows users access to create, to access, manage and share academic content," Yost said. "Our curriculum and instruction staff has worked diligently to make certain that everything is up to date."

The district will only close schools if there is an outbreak that directly affects a school, said spokesman Mike Barber. Local health officials' recommendations for the scope and duration of school closures will be made case by case.

As of Tuesday evening, no Florida school districts had shut down, and just a handful of private schools had canceled classes at any point due to the outbreak.

Spring break travel

Ahead of spring break March 16-20, the district advised its employees and students and their families follow the CDC's recommendations to not travel to the high-risk countries over spring break and if they are planning to, to contact their school or supervisor immediately.

"School-sponsored and district-sponsored travel to high-risk areas certainly are all being canceled," Yost said.

New out-of-country and out-of-state travel requiring air transportation will not be approved until further notice (except for emergency situations or highly mission-critical employee travel).

"If you travel to those (high-risk) countries (during spring break), there is an expectation that you complete a mandatory 14-day self isolation," Yost said. "We're asking not only families, but also our own employees to please make certain that we can keep everyone safe after spring break."

Spring cleaning

Now and during spring break, the district will "deep clean" its schools and disinfect all restrooms and break rooms daily, disinfecting daily all common touch areas such as copiers, door handles, light switches, faucets and water fountains, and playgrounds and outdoor touch surfaces.

Manatee County Schools recently received over 1,000 units of 1-liter refills of alcohol-based hand sanitizers and will receive another 300 next week, said Doug Wagner, deputy superintendent of business services and operations.

"Once the coronavirus came to light, we immediately ordered alcohol-based hand sanitizer and dispensers, which have been sorted, divided into units based on population and the school, delivered to the schools with the attention of the principals," Wagner said.

As the district is working to quell panic among students, parents and teachers, it is coordinating with the Florida Department of Health and Manatee County Emergency Management to determine a course of action for its schools.

In response to the growing coronavirus outbreak in the state, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Monday.

"By declaring the state of emergency, Gov. DeSantis is ensuring that the state and local governments have the resources and flexibility they need to prepare and respond," said Jennifer Bencie, county health officer for the Florida Department of Health in Manatee County. "The highest priority of both the governor and the Florida Department of Health at this time is to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure everyone who is potentially infected is appropriately identified, cared for and isolated."

The district is advising students to stay home if they feel sick and to call the Manatee Health Department.

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