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District to take ‘distance-learning day’ Sept. 4

By Tim Croft
The Star

Call it a brief circuit-breaker. 

The district, as allowed under re-opening plans, will take a “distance-learning” day the Friday leading into Labor Day weekend. 

The day will provide all students the practice on distance-learning should a school or schools be required to close to the COVID-19 pandemic, said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. 

Gulf District Schools will use Sept. 4 as a distance learning day

In addition, it provides something of a mini-break for district staff, teachers and students after a hectic opening to schools. 

“We just need a little breather, a chance to just break the circuit for a few days,” Norton said. 

“We picked this particular day because it coincided with the Labor Day weekend. This will give us all a long weekend I think we need and will help.” 

Norton noted that the first week of school was “relatively smooth” though there have been staffing challenges due to absences related to coronavirus and quarantines. 

“The distance learning option seems to be taking shape nicely, but we feel it is prudent to put it to the true test so that we can be assured that should it be necessary to close a school or schools we are fully prepared,” Norton said. 

“This will ensure the ‘bricks-and-mortar' students are just as comfortable accessing from home as our current distance learners.” 

In fact, the Florida Department of Education required districts to plan “distance-learning” days into the school calendar, with no specific dates mandated, as part of re-opening plans. 

Specifically, the district’s re-opening plan approved by the FDOE includes the following language. 

·        Students and teachers need support creating the “muscle memory” for distance learning, as learning outside the classroom is not a skill equally shared by all students and teachers today.  Unquestionably, some students and teachers were better prepared for this transition than others, for a variety of reasons, and this support is necessary should the need arise again for periods of required distance learning. 

·        Schools and districts will also need FDOE’s support with professional development, instructional design and creating model plans for implementation of these innovations. 

·        FDOE will work with districts and schools to create a normalized schedule of planned distance learning days and subsequent learning opportunities for teachers and students to become more familiar with distance learning. 

·        Schools and districts could schedule these days much like teacher planning days, once each month, with training for teachers, students and even parents/guardians to learn how to utilize distance learning tools. 

·        FDOE will work with districts and schools to identify means of training students and their parents/guardians. 

·        These days could also become pathways for districts to ensure that students have dedicated time for learning models for statutorily required instruction, like mental health and substance abuse education. 

Norton emphasized that though school buildings would be closed, the day would still count as an instructional day. 

“School should not be considered closed or not in session,” Norton said. 

All students will receive the day’s assignments via the distance learning platform on that day. 

So, the bottom line for students and teachers, Norton said, complete Friday’s assignments and take the long Labor Day and enjoy. 

“Take that brief respite to rest up and charge your batteries, relax and enjoy your families,” Norton told staff in a district-wide email.