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More than 88% of Collier students expected to be on campus to start second semester

Rachel Fradette
Naples Daily News

The largest number of students since the start of the coronavirus pandemic are slated to return to Collier schools next week. 

Students will reach that number as more than 650 coronavirus cases have been reported on Collier campuses since students and faculty returned to campuses on Aug. 31. 

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.

More:SWFL graduation rates: Collier and Lee counties make gains despite pandemic

Cases hit more than 650 since August

More student cases were reported in Collier high schools but the most student cases combined with employee cases belong to elementary schools, according to data from Collier's COVID-19 dashboard. 

Since August, Gulf Coast High School has reported 50 coronavirus cases, the most out of all traditional public schools so far this school year.

More:Analysis: COVID-19 cases at Collier schools show slight rise overall, but surge at Gulf Coast High

With the most students on campus so far this year students will continue to distance as much as possible, Chad Oliver, Collier district spokesman, said. 

Peggy Aune, associate superintendent of teaching and learning, said schools are using space on their campuses as best they can with some classes meeting outside and in larger spaces like auditoriums.

Other safety protocols remain in place, including handwashing and wearing masks on school buses. 

The second quarter is poised to have hundreds of more cases than the first quarter, which many feared would lead to a spread of the virus. 

At the start of the second quarter, about 78% returned to brick-and-mortar schools following a survey by the district.

More:Florida schools reopened en masse, but a surge in coronavirus didn't follow, a USA TODAY analysis finds

The second quarter ends on Jan. 15. The second semester starts on Jan. 19 with a virtual learning day. Teacher-led instruction begins the following day.

Collier County's school district serves about 43,500 students in 51 traditional public schools and the alternative school programs. 

Checklist before heading to campus

With more students expected on campus, Collier schools are continuing to remind families of what to plan for ahead of walking into class.

For many students, next Wednesday will be similar to an official first day of school, Aune said. 

"Throughout the year, each quarter felt like a new start, because new students joined," Aune said. "So, it changes the dynamics of the campus."

Student checklists for on-campus and virtual learning plus parent guides that focus on mental health supports are going out to families, Aune said. 

New teachers or schedule changes are to be expected for the second semester but the district works to minimize them while maintaining consistency for students, Aune said.

"Schedule changes at second semester actually occur each year, but we do anticipate they will be more prevalent this year due to the various instructional models we have in place," Aune said.

Aune said some schedules are subject to change depending on the number of students returning to a particular school.

Collier schools in 2021:From COVID-19 protocols to court cases, things to watch this year

Students in Collier schools are required to wear face coverings, and the mandate will continue through the end of the school year, Oliver, the district spokesman, said. 

For the second semester, every student and staff member will be gifted a new face mask. Students helped select the design, Aune said.

Every student and staff member in Collier schools will receive a new face mask at the start of the second semester.

Screensavers for laptop devices in the district will display "Kindness matters" as part of a district initiative this upcoming semester, Aune said. 

"It's one small piece, but I think it's representative of what our approach is, which is ensuring that those needs are met," Aune said.

Parents who have concerns or questions are encouraged to reach out if interventions or supports are needed, Aune said.

More students on campus

In December, Collier schools sent home notifications to families of students not making "adequate progress" in virtual learning. 

"Adequate progress" includes a C or above in all courses and an attendance rate greater than 90% in the first quarter.

Following an executive order from the state Department of Education, school districts across Florida began interventions with these students.

As of Jan. 7, the school district had responses from about 84% of parents with students in Classroom Connect, Collier's live, virtual instruction model.

The district extended the survey to students making "adequate progress" and those who were not. 

Of the responses, about half of students are returning to campus and the other half are remaining virtual.

School staffs are still reaching out to families that have not responded, Aune said.

"Teachers are making contact with families and really trying all different avenues," Aune said.

Collier's first-quarter grades revealed 23% of students in grades three to 12 had one or more failing grade, a jump of 10% from last year.

More:About 3,500 Collier students lacking progress encouraged to return to brick-and-mortar schools

As of Tuesday, the school district reported these projected enrollment numbers by each model:

  • On-campus instruction: 88.3%
  • Classroom Connect/High School Flexible: 9.7%
  • eCollier Academy:  2%

Rachel Fradette is an education reporter for the Naples Daily News. Follow her on Twitter: @Rachel_Fradette, email her at rfradette@gannett.com.

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