An extension of statewide school closures due to the coronavirus has the Citrus County School District thinking more long term in how it will teach and care for its students at home.
Starting March 30, the district's Instructional Continuity Plan goes into action, giving the district's roughly 15,000 students, including those with disabilities, opportunities to learn at home.
"Our Instructional Continuity Plan is fluid and will be adapted in response to the needs of our students and community," a Wednesday news release from the district stated. "More information will be provided in the next few days."
For students whose families don't have an internet-capable device at home, the district is allowing caregivers to check-out those devices starting the week of March 23 through March 26.
Principals will contact families to verify their school's check-out timeline.
District staff and teachers since Monday have been training and planning to teach students through virtual classrooms or take-home workbooks in case schools remain closed beyond March 30.
This plan is being implemented to cover Gov. Ron DeSantis’ latest announcement Tuesday that students in public and private K-12 schools and also technical campuses won't return to schools until April 15.
District officials are also reaching out to neighboring districts to coordinate similar home-schooling methods.
“We want to be on the same page,” school district spokeswoman Lindsay Blair said.
DeSantis and Florida Department of Education officials on March 13 first ordered two weeks of school closures for students, timing closures with scheduled spring break weeks.
Citrus County’s spring break starts Friday and ends March 30.
Since that original order, school districts have been preparing teachers and their coursework to shift into virtual classes or hardcopy packets for students to take online or home in the event closures continue, which DeSantis did until April 15.
Blair said some teachers, who all left schools Tuesday, have already handed out self-explanatory homework packets to students who don’t have Internet or computer access.
The district is referring families to low-cost Internet options through Spectrum and CenturyLink.
For more about Spectrum's Internet Assist program, call 833-267-6094 or visit SpectrumInternetAssist.com. For more about CenturyLink's Lifeline subscription, call 855-954-6546.
DeSantis on Tuesday directed school districts to use unspent 2019-20 funds toward purchasing virtual-learning devices for low-income families to connect online.
Districts are also allowed to use unspent school-safety and mental-health funds to setup counseling services for students over the phone and Internet.
DeSantis also said grades for the 2019-20 school year won't be posted, and required and voluntary state exams were canceled for the year because instructional time has been shortened due to closures.
DeSantis said parents and guardians will be allowed to keep their children in the current grade for next year if they choose.
School district staff on Monday began distributing free meals to students through several drive-thrus at schools: Crystal River Primary, Forest Ridge Elementary, Pleasant Grove Elementary, Citrus High School, Central Ridge Elementary, Lecanto High and Rock Crusher Elementary.
Student caregivers can go to any of these food-distribution sites from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Friday. No paperwork is required, but children must be present in the vehicle to get their two meals.
During the March 23 spring break week, the school district will discontinue those services because there won't be funding that week for food services.
However, the meal drive-thrus will resume March 30 at schools, Blair said.
After spring break ends for county schools March 30, district officials are formulating plans to have food service and bus departments cook and deliver food to students at home who are in need.
Blair said this will keep district bus drivers and cooks working while also making sure children are fed as schools remain closed.
“We’re trying to come up with ways to help families out,” Blair said.
Blair said district officials are talking about having teachers return to school the week of March 30 to continue training in virtual schooling and updating future lesson plans, in isolation of each other.
“We’re all not getting together,” Blair said. “We’re taking whatever precautions we can.”