Despite the governor’s urging that schools open in person, the state has approved plans by Broward and Miami-Dade school districts to start the new school year using distance learning only to contend with COVID-19.
Palm Beach County School District also expects to get approval from the Department of Education to start the school year online, district spokeswoman Claudia Shea said.
Palm Beach County moved the first day of school from Aug. 10 to Aug. 31, while Miami-Dade moved it from Aug. 21 to Aug. 3. Broward plans to stick with its plan to open Aug. 19.
All three districts say they are working with county health officials and hope to resume on-campus learning as soon as possible once conditions improve.
All public schools closed their campuses and switched to online learning in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But state and federal leaders have pressured districts to reopen. Most districts in the state plan to give parents the option of in-person or distance learning.
A state order last month from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said parents should be allowed to attend an actual school campus if they desire, and many parents have pushed local districts to give them that option. However, the order ultimately left the decision to local officials based on health considerations
South Florida school officials say it would be difficult to have everyone return to school safely as cases continue to spread.
Charter schools aren’t required to followed the plans outlined by districts, although most of them said they, too, will start out online only until local health conditions improve. An exception had been Charter Schools USA, which operates 21 South Florida schools, many under the name Renaissance.
The charter school provider said last week that it expected to offer parents the option for in-person learning at most of its South Florida campuses. While some parents welcomed the news, many teachers complained conditions were unsafe. On Wednesday, Charter Schools USA backtracked, announcing that all classes would start online.
“Coming to this decision has been extremely difficult as we’ve been listening to the needs of our parents, including those hardest hit by the pandemic and its disproportionate impact on minorities, single-parent families, first responders, essential workers and low-income families,” CEO John Hage said.
Hage said research and experts show “conclusively that most students learn best in-person, in-school. We remain committed to return our students to school as soon as possible. Our goal is to balance this with the health and safety of our students, faculty and community.”
Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie spoke about reopening at a hearing Thursday of the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
“I’ve been clear about reopening schools. We will not compromise the health and safety of students, teachers and staff,” Runcie told the committee. “That’s our highest priority. Period.”
Members of the committee were largely divided along party lines, with Democrats opposing reopening in areas where the virus is prevalent and Republicans saying the downside to students’ academic, social, nutritional and emotional well-being were too severe to keep kids at home.
“The harm of students being out of school will be far greater to children than will be harmed by COVID-19,” said U.S. Rep. Mark Green, R-Tennessee. “It’s not even close.”
Arne Duncan, education secretary in the Obama administration, disagreed. He said the federal government and areas like Broward County haven’t taken the steps needed to contain the virus. He said Florida was more interested in keeping bars and restaurants open than getting the numbers down so schools could safely open.
“Superintendent Runcie desperately wants to open schools,” Duncan said. “There’s nothing in it for him not to open schools. He can’t afford to do it because it’s not safe for his community, because his community has not done the right things in the last few months.”
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