Pasco schools won’t offer mySchool Online option next year

The virtual learning option known as mySchool Online will not return next school year, according to Pasco County Schools. The program was created in response to the COVID-19 pandemic with the intention of terminating after the 2020-2021 school year.

LAND O’ LAKES — The mySchool Online learning option for Pasco County K-12 students will end after the 2020-21 school year, according to Superintendent Kurt Browning.

Pasco County Schools announced the news March 30.

“Based on recent positive trends, we expect there will no longer be the need for the mySchool Online option next year,” Browning said in a video statement. “We expect the vast majority of our students to be back in the classroom for in-person learning and for our employees to return to the classroom or office.”

The superintendent explained that the Florida Department of Education only authorized state school systems to offer mySchool Online-type options for the 2020-21 school year. Browning said “current indications” are that similar programs will not be authorized for the school year beginning in the fall.

Districts throughout the state created options similar to Pasco’s mySchool Online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It allowed families to keep children at home once in-person learning restarted on Aug. 24. Students enrolling in mySchool Online maintained a connection to their school and followed the normal school schedule and bell times from their home devices. Families were able to switch from mySchool Online to in-person learning at any time. There was a since-passed deadline for students wishing to switch from in-person learning to mySchool Online.

According to the district, approximately 21% of students were enrolled in mySchool Online.

“The number of students choosing the mySchool Online options has been steadily decreasing — as expected,” Browning said.

Browning also stressed the difference between mySchool Online and Pasco eSchool, the virtual option that has served Pasco students since 2009. Pasco eSchool is for students who desire more control over their learning path and pace, and who prefer a more flexible schedule, a news release states. About 3% of students currently are enrolled in this virtual option.

“It has been a nationally recognized option for Pasco students for more than a decade, so we plan no changes to our successful Pasco eSchool,” Browning said.

Numbers of positive COVID-19 cases among students and staff “have decreased dramatically since the high marks of January,” the superintendent said, buoying the confidence of district officials to welcome back all mySchool Online students next fall. “We have been very aggressive making the vaccine readily available to our staff,” Browning added. “Thanks to our partnership with the Health Department, we have been able to vaccinate thousands of our employees.”

The district reported that more than 76% of Pasco students are attending class in person, as opposed to fewer than 60% earlier in the school year.

Pasco Schools has tracked and posted its recorded COVID-19 data on its website since reopening in August. As of March 30, a total of 2,019 students and 813 staff members tested positive for COVID-19. These cases impacted a total of 25,119 students and 1,931 staff members. “Impacted” means an individual was required to stay away from school and quarantine for a period of time because of close contact with an individual who tested positive.

According to numbers posted to the district website, positive test results and impact data remain erratic. For example, five positive student cases were reported on March 30, impacting 38 students and one staff member. A day earlier, 24 positive student cases and three positive staff cases impacted 363 students and two staff members.

Toward the end of Browning’s video message, viewable on the Pasco County Schools YouTube channel, he said there’s a concern among district leaders and educators that students enrolled in mySchool Online may be struggling both academically and psychologically in comparison to students attending classes in person.

“Despite our best efforts, our data show that many students who opted for mySchool Online are not succeeding academically and would benefit from a return to in-person learning,” Browning said. “There is also a growing body of evidence regarding the mental health benefits of attending school in person with classmates.”

More than five months prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year, unanswered questions do remain, Browning said.

“We have all been looking forward to the time when we can all get back to something close to normal,” he said. “That raises a question about masks. I know we’re all looking forward to doing away with the masks. Right now, I can’t say for sure whether masks will be required or optional, or some other status. We will provide clear guidance on masks when we have a better idea of what is possible.”