A new era of COVID-19, sure to last until May 1 and likely beyond that, dawned on the Franklin County School District Monday.

After teachers at both Franklin County Schools and the Apalachicola Bay Charter School hustled last week to make sure students had the tools they needed to carry on at home, families opened the week with a new landscape before them – having their children at home, and learning.

The district loaned out about 450 Chrome books to students in need of them, and did what it could to make sure homes had the opportunity to sign up with area Internet providers so that they would have online connections.

In the event the homes weren’t online, parents could still communicate with teachers via an app on their smartphones.

And, importantly, each student, regardless of whether they were wired at home, had access to traditional books-and-paper materials, to ensure they could keep abreast of their lessons.

"Online distance learning is off to a great start for Franklin County School," said third grade instructor Katrina Ham, a former district Teacher of the Year.

"Our students are enjoying being able to see their friends online and communicate as well as interact with them," she said. "There have been some anxieties from teachers and parents due to the unknowns of technology and not being in our normal classrooms, but through working closely together we have been able to put these anxieties at ease, making this online learning a success."

Ham said her experiences with her own children, a third grader and a seventh grader, who have worked alongside her, mirror what she has heard from several parents.

"They have felt successful today being able to get assignments done, feeling accomplished. I am truly thankful for everyone working together to make this a great success," said Ham.

"We have bus drivers helping deliver meals, breakfast and lunch, along with lunchroom workers each day, and we have administrators signing out devices and passing out paper-based handouts to those that need them," she said.

The district’s food service director, Terry Hilton, has reported that more than 7,000 meals had gone out the first week, as the district began first with nine sites around the county and then expanded to having a dozen bus drivers deliver meals, on a schedule, at the usual bus stops around the county.

Educators and staff within the professional learning community (PLC) have continued to meet on the Zoom software online.

"Our para-professionals are helping students and/or parents that need some assistance while we are all transitioning into this new normal for now," said Ham. "I am sure much more behind the scenes is happening to help this be a success.

"I believe this is teaching us to slow down, to have more patience, and to work together," she said. "We can’t do everything by ourselves, so we need each other to make things work. Also, it is teaching us to show love and grace which will help us get through these tough times. One Team, One Dream! #WeAreFranklin."

The school district is reminding parents that "it is critical that our students continue their education during this unusual time," and that the Florida Department of Education has issued an order that all remaining state assessments for K-12 are canceled for the 2019-20 school year.

"School districts and other educational entities are authorized to evaluate students for promotion, graduation and final course grades for the 2019-20 school year," say state officials.

The district said that it will "continue to follow our Pupil Progression Plan and Student Code of Conduct (and) teachers will continue to grade assignments for purposes of determining student progress and mastery of essential skills in order to determine grades.

"We will monitor attendance through participation in distance learning platforms. We ask families to join us in ensuring our students stay on track with their peers and are ready for promotion at the end of our regular calendar year on May 22," reads the district announcement.

At a special meeting Monday, the school board granted Superintendent Traci Moses an array of emergency powers, mainly pertaining to paying bills and approving administrative decisions, for the next 45 days.

Board Chair Stacy Kirvin asked that the original proposal for a three-month emergency order be scaled back, and that board members each have the option to request an emergency session if they wish to rescind that order.

"Ninety days is a bit of a random choice," advised School Board Attorney Barbara Sanders. "Things like the budget would have to come before the board. We wanted to give the superintendent maximum flexibility to manage so we don’t have to bring everybody together. We’re trying to balance between public participation and the Sunshine Law and managing a fairly large system on certain territory."