FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – We know that in the coming weeks both Broward and Miami-Dade schools are planning on returning to virtual classrooms. Now we’re learning more about when students might be able to physically go back to school.
Broward County schools will be starting with 100% online classes Aug. 19, and Miami-Dade will be doing the same on Aug. 31 because of the threat of coronavirus spread.
The superintendents for both districts say they aren’t ruling out allowing students to return to the classroom this year. In fact, both are targeting early October to reassess.
On Oct. 1, Broward hopes to be able to start moving toward a hybrid model. Then, after getting that model up and running, they would begin determining if and when they can re-open schools totally.
“We’ve got a major checkpoint that we’ve targeted that is Oct. 1, which is about three weeks before the end of the first marking period, start of the second marking period,” Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie said in an interview Monday with Local 10 News. “That would give us about three weeks or so that we can pivot to move to our hybrid model, which would provide opportunities to students who want to stay home and continue e-learning, also for the hybrid where they could come part-time to school and even actually be able to have students coming full-time who would desire to do so in most cases.”
Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is eyeing a similar timetable.
“We will revisit the conditions around Sept. 30 for a possible return to the school houses as early as Oct. 5 if the conditions are appropriate,” he said.
Carvalho says Miami-Dade may allow certain younger students and those with disabilities to go back even sooner.
“It is possible that we will bring some of those students back to the school sites prior to Oct. 5th in a very limited, progressive wave-like time,” he said.
Improvements to virtual learning
Runcie said that the summer has allowed educators to improve on the distance learning that they needed to spin up on the fly during the initial stages of the coronavirus outbreak.
“We pivoted last year to distance learning with a week’s notice, not a lot of time to prepare,” he said. “We’ve had time now over the summer to learn from those experiences. ... It isn’t going to be the online learning experience that our students, parents and community saw last spring, it’ll be significantly enhanced.”
Carvalho also noted improvements to the virtual system.
“The memory that parents have of the last quarter of last school year where they had to really jump from application to application for the content for their students, that’s all going to go away,” he said. “A single platform is all they’ll need.”
South Florida not ready yet
Runcie and Carvalho both say South Florida just isn’t ready for a physical return to the classroom at this point and that they’ll continue to track the numbers.
“The target is to get your community infection rate to 5% or less. In Broward County we’re 3-5x that rate,” Runcie said.
Said Carvalho: “If you look at the international standards declared by the [World Health Organization it] would be 5%, however the national standard looks at at least 10% level or lower to bring students back to school, and that’s what we are looking for. That was the criteria adopted by our medical experts, 10% positivity rate.”
Runcie said that about a third of Broward parents have decided that they plan to keep their child at home and take advantage of the distance learning model.
“They’re willing to do that because either their child has underlying health conditions, they live in a multi-generational household and some have told me they’re waiting for a vaccine to come on the market,” he said.
We asked Runcie what would happen if a student tests positive for COVID-19 during the hybrid model.
“Number one, the entire classroom is notified. We also notify the school community generally and then that particular student would have to be isolated,” he said. “They would have to be quarantined, they’d need to be tested before they could return to school, we’d have everyone else continue to monitor themselves.
“If we see additional cases pop up within a couple days or a week, then we have to seriously consider possibly shutting down the school, because now you’re recognizing that, ‘Hey, this is far more widespread.‘”
Runcie said he shares the goal of wanting to get students back into the classroom — but only as it’s safe to do so.
“We all want every single one of our kids back in school, so I know that there continues to be frustration out there,” he said, “but folks need to be more frustrated by the fact that we’re 5 months into this pandemic there’s no real overall national strategy to contain this virus.”
There was a lot more information that we got out of the districts. Some highlights:
- Broward County will be offering additional online, one-on-one, live appointments after school hours for students in middle school and high school who may need some extra help with their work.
- Both Miami-Dade and Broward will be continuing to provide meals. Together, they have distributed about 10 million meals to students and their families since the pandemic began.
- Some Broward teachers have requested to do their online teaching from their classrooms, so the district is working on setting up those teachers with the ability to do that.