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NICEVILLE — The Okaloosa County School District has met the challenge presented by a quick shift to on-line learning, and Superintendent Marcus Chambers reported Tuesday “the vast majority of students are up and running.”
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“It has not been perfect. There have been some glitches. But we’ve worked through them,” Chambers told a group gathered via conference call by the Niceville Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce. “The help desk we staffed got a lot of calls early on, but as time goes by those have become less and less.”
Chambers was joined as a featured guest at the event by state Rep. Mel Ponder, who is leaving office and has joined the race for an open District 5 Okaloosa County Commission seat.
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Ponder said he believes he’ll be called to Tallahassee one more time before he’s done with the Legislature. He expects a special session will be convened in June to adjust the state budget and address revenue shortfalls resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
He warned those present that the adjustments could result in a loss of funding for projects near and dear to Okaloosa County residents.
Ponder also said May 1 “looks solid” as a time frame for which Gov. Ron DeSantis will begin re-opening the state.
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The governor’s Re-open Florida Task Force met for the first time Monday.
The decision to close the state’s public schools to protect against an outbreak of COVID-19 was made during Okaloosa’s spring break week. Late last week the governor ordered them closed through May 28, the end of the school year.
The initial closing didn’t give district administrators and staff much time to implement changes or students time to adjust to them, Chambers said.
“We were asked to get online instruction up and running in two weeks,” he said.
Online instruction will continue through May 28, and it is hoped high school graduation ceremonies can be conducted in June and July, he said.
“We will have graduation,” Chambers said, addressing what he said has been the question he’s fielded most, behind the now answered one, of whether students will return to school this year.
The superintendent said surveys will be going out soon to high school seniors and their parents seeking input into what form the Class of 2020 graduation ceremony should take this year.
“There will be no final decision on what graduation will look like until we get input back from the students and their parents,” he said.
Chambers said spring sports have been canceled and “it’s a little too early” to know the fate of fall activities or even tryouts for them.
He said the state agency governing school sports has said it will not grant students another year of eligibility to replace the one lost to coronavirus.
Chambers said that while students will be able to improve their grades during the remaining weeks of school, the decision has been made not to allow grades to drop during this time.
Students looking to get into advanced placement or honors classes next year will be assessed using tests taken prior to the schools closing, he said.
“Not having the most recent Florida assessment would not hinder students,” he said.
Chambers said overall he’s “extremely proud of our students.”
“To change the way they work, their time management, is a big deal,” he said.