Back to school woes in Wakulla County

Published: Aug. 22, 2020 at 8:21 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -As school districts across the region are preparing for any potential storm impacts of Laura and Marco this week, they are also still dealing with the global pandemic.

Several districts across the Big Bend that have already re-opened for Fall semester are dealing with their first confirmed cases of COVID-19. This has some people re-thinking how they want their children to learn.

In most places, the decision had been left up to the parents to decide between face-to-face or virtual learning, but one woman in Wakulla County said she is learning the hard way- changing her mind, after the deadline, is not quite that easy.

“I have no one else to depend on but myself,” said Kim Mathews. “My husband and I are both disabled, elderly, and can’t afford to be exposed.”

Mathews told WCTV’s Katie Kaplan that she is scared after learning about confirmed cases within the Wakulla County School District, which returned to class on Thursday, August 13. Within a week, the health department announced several confirmed cases among students. Late afternoon on Friday, August 21, WCSD announced on Facebook that an entire class, including two teachers, at Crawfordville Elementary School is under quarantine after a student tested positive for COVID-19.

Mathews, along with her husband who is confined to a wheelchair, adopted her two biological grandchildren in 2017 and said the news prompted her to pull the 10th and 6th graders from brick and mortar learning. It is a decision she said she was under the impression that she would be able to do, despite an Aug. 13 deadline for parents to decide.

“I contacted the school to see about switching over to the distance learning and was told we are too late,” she said.

Courses for the Wakulla Innovative Educational Approach distance-learning program begin Thursday, Aug. 27.

Mathews said she was told that she would have to un-enroll her children from the district and sign them up for the Florida Virtual School, which is a statewide internet-based school. However, Mathews cannot afford Wifi or laptops for the children. She said she had been depending upon the district to provide them. The district website states both internet connectivity and electronic devices will be provided to WIEA students in need.

In an on-camera interview one week before Mathews was told her children could not transition to distance learning, Superintendent Bobby Pearce told WCTV the opposite, stating it would be “a simple switch to make.”

"So, a student can always do that, and our distance learning program is lined up with what's going on inside the classroom," Pearce said, after being asked how flexible the district would be with students who wanted to switch.

WCTV twice reached out to Superintendent Pearce requesting an interview to clarify the situation. On Friday morning, he emailed WCTV a letter to parents that had been posted on the district’s Facebook page. Roughly halfway down it states,

"Some parents have asked if they may switch from brick and mortar to distance learning in light of the positive cases that have occurred since school opening. This is always an option with the exception that the Wakulla distance learning option is currently closed."

The letter states the district has been training families on the platform since Aug. 11, and goes on to suggest families that have changed their minds about face-to-face learning enroll in the Florida Virtual School or private online schooling. Families are encouraged to contact the district at 850-926-0065 for assistance.

Over the phone Friday afternoon, as WCTV made an effort to clarify the statement, Superintendent Pearce said no one from the district would be providing interviews and that WCTV would have to air the story with only Mathews complaints.

Mathews said she does not know what she will do next, but may be forced to retain legal counsel.

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