Students in Palm Beach County will likely be learning online instead of in the classroom when the new school year begins next month, according to the School Board.
The consensus, while not a formal vote, was reached during a School Board workshop Wednesday discussing reopening plans during the COVID-19 pandemic as cases continue to increase through the state.
None of the reopening plans being considered by the district involve students and staff returning to school campuses on Aug. 10 “full time in the traditional sense,” Superintendent Donald Fennoy said during opening remarks.
The agreement by board members comes only days after Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered public schools to reopen in August.
While the emergency order allows distance learning, it also stipulates that all public schools would be required to reopen for at least five days a week and provide the full array of services required by law, including in-person instruction and services for students with special needs. The White House is also making similar demands for schools across the country.
Locally elected school boards, not the state, ultimately decide whether to open or close school. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach school districts shuttered schools March 13 ahead of any state guidance.
“We’re truly not ready. We’re not ready from a health standpoint. And we’re not ready from a planning standpoint,” said board member Marcia Andrews, according to the Palm Beach Post.
On Thursday, Florida confirmed 8,935 additional cases of the disease and 120 new deaths, bringing the statewide death toll to 4,009. Palm Beach County saw 425 new cases and nine new deaths, bringing its total to 18,656 known cases and 578 deaths.
Deciding whether to completely or partially reopen schools is a difficult decision school officials in Miami-Dade and Broward County are also grappling with.
On Tuesday, Miami-Dade County Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Miami Herald that schools would not be able to reopen, like the state and the White House are calling for, if the county continues to remain in its Phase 1 reopening stage.
If the county is still in Phase 1 by the start of school Aug. 24, as it is now, schooling would be held entirely online. The state’s order also allows for district flexibility and will fully fund school districts with “innovative learning environments,” he said.
Broward County Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie also said in a video meeting Tuesday that while the district was working to comply with the state order, it does “not see a realistic path to opening all district schools with 100 percent full enrollment every day,” NBC6 reported.
The well-being of students and employees remains our top priority. @MDCPS will ONLY proceed with in-person schooling option outlined in tentative #MDCPSReopening plan if @MiamiDadeCounty successfully transitions to Phase 2. Currently, the County is still in Phase 1. pic.twitter.com/fy9Tl6f6vo
— Alberto M. Carvalho (@MiamiSup) July 6, 2020
Carvalho reiterated his words during an interview with CNN on Thursday morning. He also said that the school district has a plan in place to reopen schools, while still accommodating students, if the county were to enter Phase 2.
Miami-Dade County, which has confirmed more than than 55,900 cases, has had to recently roll back its reopening plans and tighten restrictions as cases continue to increase.
Bowling alleys, movie theaters, casinos and other entertainment venues were forced to shut down again. Restaurants were also ordered this week to close indoor dining, and people are now required to wear a mask while exercising at the gym.
Broward County, which has more than 25,000 known cases, also tightened restrictions, including that restaurants must stop serving food and drinks at 10 p.m.
Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy will give his recommendation to the board July 15 for final consideration. The board will then vote on what the start of the 2020-2021 school year will look like for public school students. The state will then need to approve the school district’s reopening plan.
To watch the entire workshop, visit the School District of Palm Beach County’s Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/c/SDPBC/videos.
Miami Herald staff writer Colleen Wright contributed to this report.