Schools to remain closed for semester

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced at a press conference on April 18 that all public and private K-12 schools in the state will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year.

Lake Okeechobee News/Richard Marion
Graduation ceremonies around Lake Okeechobee will look much different in 2020.

Schools around Lake Okeechobee will continue distance learning and keep school campuses closed through June 3.

“Although COVID-19 has been a huge disruption for Florida students and educators,” said Gov. DeSantis, “Florida teachers have done a fantastic job leading the nation in distance learning. Our number one goal is to ensure the safety and security of students and to provide a great education. At this point, opening school campuses would cause a massive shift for our students, teachers and families who have done a great job of adapting to distance education.”

“Florida’s education community has risen to the occasion,” continued Gov. DeSantis. “Florida students are resilient, and I am proud of Florida’s educators. We will do everything we can to continue supporting distance learning throughout the state.”

The announcement was the final blow to the hopes of many 2020 seniors that they would be able to have their traditional graduation ceremonies this year.

The Palm Beach School District has already announced that it will host a virtual graduation ceremony at the end of May.

“The district will hold virtual graduation ceremonies beginning in late May, which will follow the format of traditional graduations,” said Palm Beach Superintendent Dr. Donald E. Fennoy II in a statement to 2020 seniors. “Your name will be called and your picture will be displayed to mark this milestone in your academic career. You’ll hear from speakers including your principal and your classmates. I would be honored to help you mark this important occasion by saying a few words about your achievements and resilience, not only during this unprecedented time, but throughout your academic career.”

School districts weren’t given a heads-up before the April 18 press conference, leaving many to scramble to answer questions from parents regarding the announcement.

“The major questions right now are graduation and promotion,” said Dylan Tedders, assistant superintendent of administrative services for the Okeechobee County School District. “Okeechobee High School has been working on several options, and Mrs. Myers (OHS Principal Lauren Myers) wants to reach out to the senior class and the student body leaders with options. Obviously, the mass gathering guidance will be a determining factor in options. OHS will have a graduation; what it looks like is the question still in progress.

“After three weeks we’ve worked to balance workload and ensure students are engaging either online or with packets for those with limited or no access via technology,” explained Mr. Tedders. “School staff and teachers are reaching out to students as much as necessary to keep them active in the learning. Schools are also working hard to monitor and identify students who are not engaging in work online or through the packets.”

In March, the Florida Department of Education also announced the cancellation of spring 2020 state assessments, meaning that schools gained back instructional time that will allow local districts and schools to still end the school year based on their local calendars.

“Today’s recommendation to continue distance learning will give our students, their families, teachers and our school leaders the ability to maximize student learning, while ensuring everyone’s health and safety continues to be our first priority,” said Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. “As students continue to excel in distance learning, we will continue to work with superintendents, school administrations, colleges, teachers, parents and students to implement best practices, resources and support systems to ensure positive educational outcomes for those most affected.”

Hendry County and Glades County school officials did not respond to requests for comments.

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