Monroe County officials are mulling a special summer school session that would be open to all students as a way to regroup after a historic and challenging pandemic year. The details should be finalized by the end of April.

“We’d like to give students an opportunity to re-engage in school and enjoy themselves — a range of offerings to tickle their imaginations and interests. Our kids have had a difficult time during COVID,” school superintendent Theresa Axford told Keys Weekly.

“Typically, summer school is geared toward recovery and remediation,” said Amber Archer Acevedo, coordinator of community relations for the school district. “This one will be expanded to all students to encompass a wide array of other types of activities and formats. We know students have lost time in the classroom and with their peers.”

While Axford emphasized that the details of summer school are still being brainstormed, the district has settled on a name for the expanded session: Monroe Summer BEACH (Becoming Engaged and Confident Healthy Kids) program. 

The summer school will still include remediation and credit retrieval for the students who need it, but it may now also involve new creative offerings that will be inspired by teachers’ interests. 

“For example, if an elementary teacher really loves art, they can put together a program,” said Acedevo, pointing out that the district doesn’t want to put more pressure on teachers after their challenging year. “Another program could be a reading club or a physical activity. Then parents can look and say, ‘Hey, I’d like my kid to go here.’ We anticipate in two weeks — by the end of April — being able to put this information out to parents so they can see what’s available for their kids.”

Axford cautioned that the district is still working out details like the length and time of the school sessions, but one possible schedule is two four-week programs: June 7 to July 2 and July 6 to July 30. The age groups would range from kindergarten to 12th grade.

“Some other districts in the state are requiring summer school, but that might not go over big with the high school kids,” said school board member Sue Woltanski. “I think it’s more needed in the younger kids. Not necessarily academically, but emotionally.” 

Woltanski said some kids may even ask their parents if they can go to summer school when they see that their friends are going. 

“When I first moved here to Monroe County in 2008, the summer school program was required for some kids but it was also offered for anyone who wanted to go,” she said. “And my daughter was super jealous, because they went bowling every Friday. Funding has made it difficult.”

Woltanski said the summer school could possibly be paid for with CARES Act funding, and that Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran has stated his intention of using the funding to close “achievement gaps,” which are test scores among different socioeconomic groups.

She also pointed out that this week is crucial for decision-making about summer school due to third-grade testing taking place during that time. Florida has mandatory third-grade retention if children don’t score high enough.

“This year, because of COVID, there’s been a national movement: Should we even have testing? Last year, school districts canceled spring testing and school grades, and let kids be promoted to fourth grade through course work.”

An announcement should be imminent of how districts would use the third-grade reading test score.

“Should we be retaining third grade kids for (failing)?” Woltanski asked. “I don’t think so. Should we be providing them with a school session to help them catch up? Maybe. This week will determine what the state has to say.”

COVID cases confirmed during school reopening week

Becky Herrin, Monroe County School District’s communications coordinator for COVID-19 response, told Keys Weekly that eight COVID cases were confirmed last week, resulting in two classes being told by the district to stay home or risk possible exposure to the virus. Six of those cases were children, while two were teachers. 

The week starting March 29 was intended to be the school district’s official reopening to a pre-COVID five-day in-person class schedule.

“One first-grade class was excluded due to possible exposure last week,” Herrin told Keys Weekly in an email. “One Pre-K class was excluded (April 5).”

Herrin also said the district doesn’t give out specifics about which classes/schools the cases were in. But the “COVID Dashboard” link on KeysSchools.com, which keeps a tally of confirmed cases, indicated that during the days between March 29 and April 5, six cases were at Key West High School, including five students and one teacher; one case was a teacher at Plantation Key Elementary School in Tavernier; and one case was a student at Stanley Switlik Elementary School in Marathon.

But Axford emphasized that teachers and students are content with how the reopening went.

“I met with principals last week,” she told Keys Weekly. “Everything’s going great. Children are maintaining social distance at 3 feet, which is the new CDC recommendation, and wearing masks. And teachers are maintaining 6-foot distance, and everyone is hand washing. Things are going very, very well. We’re pleased, and the teachers are pleased. And students are happy.”

Join Our Blast – Keys News Right to Your INBOX