School District of Manatee will begin e-learning while students are off campus.
Until the threat of the coronavirus subsides, East County residents, both adults and children, could receive an advanced education in the online world.
Schools and businesses are considering more online practices as a way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to help residents maintain a safe social distance from each other.
Most of the plans involve a period of two to three weeks, but preparations have begun to make services available online for a longer period of time if needed.
SOLUTIONS FOR SCHOOLS
The School District of Manatee County is moving to e-learning as a way to make up class time while students are not allowed on campus.
The school district will be closed until April 15 as a result of a directive from the state, and that time includes the annual spring break. Superintendent Cynthia Saunders said the district will use the additional week of downtime for its teachers and staff to prepare for e-learning, which begins March 30.
"Next week will be extremely important for all of our teachers, principals, administrators and support personnel to make sure everything is in order and we are fully prepared to meet the needs of our students," Saunders said in a coronavirus update from the district. "We will also be providing parents with important information on how this will work and how their students can continue to get the lessons they need to successfully complete this school year."
Genelle Zoratti Yost, the deputy superintendent of instructional services, said e-learning would allow students to “pick up where we left off” in their instruction and enable them to communicate via an online learning management platform, Schoology.
Both Saunders and School Board Member James Golden said e-learning is only a temporary solution and one that can’t replace face-to-face classroom instruction.
“There are so many things that you learn just from being in the same room and getting individual attention from your teachers, not to mention the fact that large segments of our population are being disadvantaged because they don’t have access to online learning,” Golden said.
Golden said the county has yet to have the planning sessions necessary to address the impacts of the coronavirus concerns. He said issues include families not having child care during school closures, students not having access to breakfast or lunch as they would if they were in school and families losing a source of income if they need to stay home with their children.
Any extended e-learning program would rely on children being supervised at home while online or having access to e-learning at day care. If the day care option involves more than a handful of children, then the threat of the spread of coronavirus becomes an issue again.
Sean Otter, a Lakewood Ranch resident and father of two daughters, Miah and Carina, said having to make last-minute child care arrangements can be frustrating for the children and parents.
“But there’s not really much you can do,” Otter said.
Bill Schmidt, co-owner of Kiddie Academy of Lakewood Ranch, said many child care centers in East County already have a waiting list of families needing care, but some parents have chosen to pull their children from Kiddie Academy as a precaution to the coronavirus.
“We do realize we have to stay open because you have police officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses — and they rely on us,” Schmidt said.
Out-of-Door Academy has moved its classes online for both the Lakewood Ranch and Siesta Key campuses starting March 16.
In a message to ODA parents sent March 12, David Mahler, ODA’s head of school, informed parents that a remote learning platform will provide students access to resources and curriculum materials online as they attend real-time virtual classes. Students will have the opportunity to connect directly with their teachers.
NEW WAYS OF SOCIALIZATION
Online offerings are likely to extend past the school system if the coronavirus threat lasts an extended period of time.
Keith Pandeloglou, the director of Lakewood Ranch Community Activities, said the nonprofit will plan virtual gatherings, so people can enjoy the vibrant social life that was a huge part of Lakewood Ranch before COVID-19 concerns canceled most gatherings and put elderly residents at a higher risk.
Pandeloglou said Lakewood Ranch Community Activities will try to connect people in similar ways to its live events, such as Music at Main or Eggstravaganza, the huge community Easter Egg hunt scheduled for April 4 at the Adventure Park in Greenbrook.
“It won’t be the same, but we take it upon ourselves to come up with ways to do it,” he said. “I don’t know what they are yet because we’re all in uncharted territory. We band together in times like these, and we’ll get through this.”
Although virtual reality can offer some relief, it can’t replace such amenities as the restaurant environment. That could be a major challenge for local restaurants to overcome.
Eric Berry, a manager for Fast N Fresh on Main Street at Lakewood Ranch, stood quietly at the cash register March 16.
Usually, the Lakewood Ranch restaurant would be bustling with 40 to 50 customers around noon, but on this day, it was empty.
“We’ve lost considerable business just in the last couple of days from that impact,” Berry said of the coronavirus. “We’re playing it day by day right now. We’re not exactly sure how things are going to go forward.”
Due to health concerns, more people are choosing to stay at home rather than eating at a restaurant or shopping at a local business. Some establishments, like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Taco Bell, have gone to drive-thru-only service.
On March 17, Gov. Ron DeSantis closed all Florida bars and nightclubs for 30 days.
Other businesses face a similar challenge, keeping business brisk while maintaining a safe environment.
On the door of JD Barbary Shoppe, a sign directs customers who are sick to stay home and call to reschedule an appointment.
Lynn Rainwater, owner of JD Barbary Shoppe, said the sign was a result of a customer coming in sick and making others feel uncomfortable.
Since last week, Rainwater said her business has experienced appointment cancellations, but she hopes business will be back to normal soon.
“It is hard as a small business owner to plan and predict for something like this,” she said. “It is very impactful on businesses. I just told another customer, ‘We are here as long as they want to still come in and see us and as long as my barbers are healthy.’”
In support of local businesses, Pandeloglou has decided that when he eats out, he will get food from local restaurants.
“If I’m going to spend money going out or bringing food in, we do it within our community because I think we have a responsibility to take care of our home first,” Pandeloglou said. “I live here, I work here, I run nonprofits here, my business is here, and we are all going to have to support each other.”