Back-to-school guide for Lakeland, FL

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Students, parents, and teachers all have questions about what this school year will bring. 2020 has been unprecedented, to say the least, so we did some digging to help break down the plan in Polk County. What we can all plan for is another year of learning + growing no matter if students are in-person or virtual

The first day of school (projected to be Aug. 24)  will look different this year. So let’s take a look at what we know.

Note: This guide is specifically for public schools. For private + charter school information, please reach out to each specific school for guidelines 

🗣️ What officials are saying

🗣️ Gov. DeSantis spoke about reopening schools on June 12.  Gov. DeSantis called for all schools to reopen in the fall and for school districts to allow parents to decide between in-classroom or virtual learning. The governor also said that local districts can make their own decisions on reopening schools. 

🗣️ FL Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an order that stated “school districts and charter school governing boards must provide the full array of services that are required by law so that families who wish to educate their children in a brick and mortar school full time have the opportunity to do so.” More information on guidelines about back to school has been recommended by the Florida Department of Education

🗣️ Polk County Public Schools Superintendent (PCPS) Jacqueline Byrd postponed the reopening of schools until at least Aug. 24. The PCPS Board has worked since the start of the pandemic to create a model of options for returning to school, including, Traditional Campus Learning, Campus eSchool + Polk Virtual School

🗣️ Florida Education Association (FEA) – the state’s largest teachers union – disagrees about the decision to reopen brick + mortar schools. The FEA has filed a lawsuit to “to protect health and well-being of students, educators, and communities.” Read the lawsuit here

🗣️ The Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics released an 11-page report with recommendations to lower risks of infection to students + teachers. The paper additionally recommended the delay of school for some districts, saying that “coronavirus prevalence will not decrease enough in the next 4-6 weeks to make the benefits of school attendance outweigh the risks.”

🗣️ The CDC announced on July 23 that it has updated its guidelines to recommend that schools reopen in the fall. 

🏫 Learning options

The three instruction model options for returning to school includes:

  • Traditional Campus Learning: Brick and Mortar; PK-12; masks will be required; additional health + safety protocols will be taken
  • Campus eSchool: 100% e-learning, tied to district school; K-12 quarterly commitment; parents will serve as learning coaches
  • Polk Virtual School: Full-time, K-12; semester commitment; PCPS teachers will teach online lessons
This graphic outlines the learning options for the new school year. | Polk County Public Schools

Parents have until Aug. 2 to choose a learning option for their child for the 2020-21 school year. Registration forms are available here and here (Español). 

As of July 28, 55,000 people had completed the forms so far, showing that most parents prefer distance-learning. 46% of submissions by parents choose traditional schooling for their child(ren). However, 45% chose Campus eSchool with an additional 9% electing Polk Virtual.

🗓️ School calendar 

See the full calendar here.

The anticipated start date for the 2020-21 school year is Aug. 24. The school year was originally expected to begin on Aug. 10, but the date was pushed back due to the rise of coronavirus cases in the community. Teacher workdays begin on Aug. 17

Quoteworthy: “We are trending upward with the rise of COVID-19 cases, not only in the state but right here in Polk County. At this time, I do not feel it is safe to physically reopen schools on Aug. 10. We need to delay the opening of school at least until Aug. 24. We will continue to monitor the situation with health officials, and if the spread of the virus remains high, we can further delay the physical reopening of our brick-and-mortar schools if necessary.”Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd

Additionally, the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) has postponed the start of the fall sports season until Aug. 24.

😷 Safety precautions 

Masks: Polk County School Board members voted “yes” to adding face masks to the schools’ dress code. Students grades K-12 must wear masks during in-person classes when they resume on Aug. 24. Grace will be extended for grades K-1 throughout the first nine weeks. Older students are expected to follow the mask guidelines with different disciplinary actions taken against them should they not comply. As an added precaution if you want to grab a few reusable masks for your student, check out these masks for kids

You can find additional content about mask requirements from Lakeland Mom here

Buses: Polk County is implementing safety measures and precautions on school buses ahead of the official back to school date. Certain features include: temperature checks on bus drivers before each shift, masks for driver and students, two students per seat, sanitizer on the stairwells, loading from rear to front, regular bus cleaning, and the opening of certain windows/hatches to allow for fresh air.

✏️ Where to get supplies 

Back to school shopping may be more difficult to complete this year. Most teachers create their own lists specific to the needs of their classrooms. Reach out to your child’s teacher to see what that list includes + be prepared for extra cleaning supplies this year. To ensure your student is prepared for a hybrid model, plan to have a set of school supplies for home + for the classroom

Florida’s tax-free weekend is just around the corner. From Aug. 7-9, certain items can be purchased tax-free. This includes: school supplies, clothing, footwear, and the first $1,000 of the sales price of computers + certain computer-related accessories purchased for noncommercial home or personal use.

If you’re looking for more organizations offering support, check out this roundup from Lakeland Mom.  

🤝 Additional support 

Polk County Public Schools has extended its summer meals program through Aug. 6. See lunch meal sites here. Note: Meal sites are open Mondays + Thursdays from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Children can receive three breakfasts + three lunches each day. 

Head Start applications are now available online. The program “helps deliver services to children and families in core areas of early learning, health, and family well-being while engaging parents as partners every step of the way.” 

💻 #ProTips for at-home learning

  • Have kids get dressed like they usually would for school. This helps to establish routines and expectations for productivity during the day.
  • Structure is just as important as ever. It is recommended that students have a dedicated workspace away from televisions and other distractions.
  • Create a schedule that works for the whole family — and stick to that schedule for consistency. For parents: establish your own schedule and communicate with other family members so they understand how to respect your time.
  • Take breaks. A good rule of thumb is 10 minutes for every 60 minutes of work completed. Additionally, use the National PTA’s guidelines for homework10 minutes per grade level, e.g. a 3rd grader might be assigned ~30 minutes of supplemental work outside of regular school instruction.
  • Help maintain children’s social connections by connecting them virtually with classmates for study groups, fun activities, or simply to chat during lunchtime. Find out more here.

💼 School jobs 

Back to the chalkboard. Polk County Schools is looking to fill 100 positions before the year begins on the tentative date of Aug. 24. Over 700 people checked in at a job fair that was held earlier this year, but the school district is looking to hire individuals who already live in the state

Kids aren’t the only ones getting back to the school scene. Polk County Public Schools is looking to recruit individuals for teacher, bus driver + attendant positions for the 2020-21 school year. 

📝 FAQs 

Have questions about what going back to school will look like in Polk County? Ask away, and we’ll do our best to get them answered for you.