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Public schools preparing for wave of students returning to classrooms

STORY BY GEORGE ANDREASSI (Week of October 15, 2020)

Public schools here are bracing for several thousand additional students who will be moving from online to in-school attendance in the next two weeks.

Students engaged in virtual studies should return to class in person to boost their academics if they can cope with the risks related to COVID-19, said Schools Superintendent David Moore.

Testing data shows the academic performance of some virtual students has slipped since last year, Moore said. And many of the district’s most challenged virtual students have yet to take assessment tests.

“I look at where we are academically and I look at the students who are in virtual or transitional and I see some grave concerns,” Moore said. “It is alarming.”

A total of 5,694 students are enrolled in the virtual schooling program, about 37.5 percent of the district’s population, records show. The other 9,493 students, about 62.5 percent, have returned to class in person.

“I want at least 75 percent of our students back in brick and mortar,” Moore said. “The most effective environment for academic success is in a classroom with a live teacher.”

So far, 41 percent of the 1,182 virtual school parents who responded to a school district survey indicated they intend to send their children back to school in person when the second quarter starts Monday, Oct. 26.

The other 59 percent said they intend to keep their child in one of two virtual schooling programs through the end of the semester, district records show. The deadline to respond was Wednesday.

Virtual students returning to class in person will be phased in starting Monday, Oct. 19, Moore said. Principals will notify students when to report to school

“We will be fully transitioned by Oct. 26,” Moore said.

Educators want to make sure virtual students don’t suffer permanent setback in their studies, particularly in math and reading, Moore said. Tutoring sessions can be scheduled at school for virtual students who don’t want to return to class in person fulltime.

But School Board member Jacqueline Rosario said she didn’t want to rush the virtual students to return to class in person if their parents are still leery of the virus.

Parents of virtual students gave the schools a rating of 3.5 out of 5, records show, while those whose children attend class in person gave a rating of 3.88.

The school district reported four new COVID-19 cases in the past week, two students at Vero Beach High School, one student at Sebastian River High School and one student at Treasure Coast Technical College.

Health officials issued quarantine directions to 26 students and one staff member at Sebastian River High and 16 students and two staff members at Treasure Coast Technical, records show. The school district had not reported the number of students quarantined at Vero Beach High School at press time.

 A total of 24 students and four staff members in 14 different public and charter schools in Indian River County have tested positive for COVID-19 since the new school year started on Aug. 24, records show.

State Health officials have directed more than 38 students and at least 10 staff members in the school district to quarantine, records show.