Okeechobee schools closed, but learning will continue

OKEECHOBEE – School campuses are closed through April 15 but “that doesn’t mean learning is stopping,” Superintendent of Schools Ken Kenworthy told Okeechobee County Commissioners at their March 18 meeting.

He said they are working on plans for virtual learning.

Mr. Kenworthy said the state has eliminated requirements for standardized testing this year, and will waive the testing requirements for high school seniors. As long as seniors have required number of credits and required GPA they are graduating.

Until students can return to the classroom, most will focus on an online learning plan. Mr. Kenworthy said they are also working on a plan for students who do not have internet access.

“By noon tomorrow will have instructional continuity plan,” he said.

Mr. Kenworthy said they will set up sites for parents to checkout computers for their children to use. He said the school system has enough computers to take care of all of the students who do not have their own computer devices.

“We’re calling teachers in next week to work on online plans and print materials on an as needed basis to keep instruction going as much as possible,” he said.

Mr. Kenworthy said he hopes they will not have to extend the school year. If they can get enough instructional hours in through online learning, they may be able to stay with the established calendar.

“We realize it is a hardship of everybody to have to do this,” said Mr. Kenworthy. “We’ll make it work. We’ll get it done. Just because we are moving online, doesn’t mean your kid is destined to be retained,” he said.

Students will have to complete that work while they are out, he cautioned. If they don’t work while they are out, they stand a good chance of being retained.

“There are some places in the county even if you provide them with a computer, they don’t have internet access,” he said, “and parents can’t get them into town.”

He said the schools will put together paper lessons packets as a last resort.
Mr. Kenworthy said they are identifying more areas they can provide free WiFi.

“We are purchasing additional access points so our parking lots at the school can be used for WiFi,” he explained. Users could stay in their cars to avoid contact with other people. Lessons could be downloaded and completed work uploaded onto the students’ computers.

While the library is closed to the public, internet access will be available in that parking lot as well.

The schools are working on a plan to get school lunches to the students during the extended break. Okeechobee High School, Okeechobee Public Library and Douglas Brown School have been identified as sites where lunches can be picked up. None of the locations will have onsite consumption of food.

He said they are looking for ways to get food to students in more remote areas of the county.

“We can use our bus drivers and food service employees to transport those lunches,” he said.
He said they have to meet requirements to keep foods at certain temperatures.

“Tomorrow, we will identify areas where the buses will deliver food,” he explained. Mr. Kenworthy said they are looking for a central location near the Prairie where they could distribute food for students in that area.
“We would like to have a central location near an existing bus stop,” he said.

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