Collier, Lee school districts plan learning options for spring semester

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Naples Daily News | by Rachel Fradette | October 7, 2020

Collier and Lee County schools are taking different approaches toward continuing virtual learning options for students next semester.

Many Collier students will be expected to return to their brick-and-mortar schools at the start of the spring semester or enroll in Collier’s virtual school, eCollier Academy, the district’s superintendent announced last week.

Lee County will continue to offer all of its current learning options. 

In Collier, students enrolled in the Classroom Connect and the High School Flexible instructional options will no longer have those options in the spring, according to the district.

Classroom Connect offers live, virtual instruction while High School Flexible is completely flexible learning. Students remain enrolled at their schools for both options.

High school students may have Classroom Connect, High School Flexible or a combination of both options, according to the district.  

During the spring semester, students still will have the option to remain virtual through eCollier Academy. The K-8 virtual school features flexible learning, not live virtual teaching that follows a similar school day. 

The virtual school will soon be expanded to add high school after serving K-8 this semester, according to the district.

High school students who wish to remain online will be allowed to enroll in eCollier Academy for the spring.

Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran’s executive order, which created parameters for reopening, is set to expire at the end of the year. 

As a result, Collier’s learning models will shift, Superintendent Kamela Patton wrote in an email announcement.

Collier plans allowed under the executive order, including Collier’s Classroom Connect and High School Flexible virtual scheduling, will expire with it, according to the district. 

“We sit in a precarious predicament, having to tell people that it’s (executive order) coming to an end,” Patton said at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

If parents want to share their opinions on their options, Patton and Board Chairwoman Stephanie Lucarelli encouraged them to reach out to Corcoran’s office to share them as he weighs whether or not to extend his order.

“People listening who want to do something or have a voice, this is the time,” Patton said.

Corcoran’s office is open to listening, she said. 

The order that is expiring “allows CCPS to fund the innovative model of Classroom Connect/High School Flexible virtual scheduling,” Chad Oliver, Collier’s district spokesman, wrote in an email.

“In addition to the eCA (eCollier Academy) option remaining available for elementary and middle, high school students may opt to enroll in eCA (eCollier Academy) in the second semester if they are seeking a virtual option,” Oliver wrote.

Laptops sit out on desks in a third grade classroom during a tour to highlight coronavirus precautions being implemented by Collier County Public Schools throughout the district at Mike Davis Elementary School near Golden Gate on Thursday, August 13, 2020. Each student from first through 12th grade will have a laptop to use at school and take home with them, and younger students will have tablets.
Laptops sit out on students desks in a third grade classroom during a tour to highlight coronavirus precautions being implemented by Collier County Public Schools through the district at Mike Davis Elementary School near Golden Gate on Thursday, August 13, 2020. Each student from first through 12th grade will have a laptop to use at school and take home with them, and younger students will have tablets. Alex Driehaus/Naples Daily News/USA TODAY – FL NETWORK

If the order is renewed, the district would consider continuing Classroom Connect and the High School Flexible options, Oliver wrote. 

Lee County district officials say there are no plans to move every student back to traditional brick-and-mortar learning anytime soon.

“We anticipate continuing Lee Home Connect as long as the need and demand is there for this school year,” said Rob Spicker, a spokesman for the district.

School by the numbers

About 26,800 Collier students — or 62% — are enrolled in on-campus learning at brick-and-mortar schools and about 15,000 students — or 35% — are enrolled in Classroom Connect, according to the district’s first month of enrollment numbers.

The remaining fraction of students — about 3% — are enrolled in eCollier Academy.

Classroom Connect is a commitment of one school quarter, but parents will soon be able to change their child’s instruction for the second quarter.

Parents with students in Classroom Connect, and High School Flexible, will receive an email survey, which will be sent out Oct.12, to select what option they prefer to place their child in for the second quarter that starts Nov. 2.

In the survey, parents will have a choice of whether to continue their child in virtual learning through Classroom Connect or return to their physical school buildings for face-to-face instruction.  

Lee County families were also given a choice on how they wanted their children to be taught under the district’s reopening plan. This included traditional face-to-face instruction with safety and health protocols in place, two types of virtual instruction and parent-led homeschool.

Enrollment numbers from Sept. 14, the district’s most recently released headcount data, show the following breakdown for the district’s 86,671 students:

The most recent headcounts for Lee County show that 43,562 students are enrolled in face-to-face instruction, with 35,066 signed up for Lee Home Connect classwork, which ties students to live, virtual instruction taught by a teacher at their assigned school.

Lee Home Connect is a commitment of one quarter, or nine-week period.

Another 5,531 are enrolled in Lee Virtual School, which is a fully online K-12 school that has been around for a decade. The commitment for this type of instruction is one semester, which is no different than any other school year.

The count for homeschooled children is 2,512.

A two-week window to change students in or out of Lee Home Connect or in-person learning began Monday. Families have until Oct. 16 to apply for a change leading up to the second quarter of school, which starts Nov. 2.

Safety measures in Collier also saw some changes last week.

The school district changed its physical education and recess procedure while strengthening their mask mandate requiring all students to wear two-layered masks. 

Masks can now be removed during recess and outdoor physical education classes, according to the district.

At sporting events, more attendees will be allowed to watch while socially distanced.

Collier headcounts by learning model

  • Face-to-face instruction — 26, 789 students
  • Classroom Connect — 14, 984 students
  • eCollier Academy — 1,199 students 

Lee headcounts by learning model

  • Face-to-face instruction — 43, 562 students
  • Lee Home Connect — 35,066 students
  • Lee Virtual school — 5,531 students