Parents uncertain how to prepare for new school year in South Florida

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – This weekend many school supplies are tax-free in Florida, but Jerline Baltimore doesn’t have a list of what to buy.

Miami-Dade and Broward counties will start the school year online, but that still leaves many questions for parents like Baltimore.

“The times are very uncertain, and that’s very stressful,” she says. “Right now I don’t know what’s going on honestly.”

The local school districts have said they hope to reassess at the beginning of October whether they can open up classrooms physically, provided the coronavirus numbers improve.

That comes as Gov. Ron DeSantis is urging all schools to provide an in-person learning option across the state, bringing politics and legal wrangling into the equation.

On Thursday afternoon, Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie took his concern to Congress.

“As we continue to consult with our local public health officials and medical experts for guidance, I have been clear about reopening schools that we will not compromise the health and safety of our students, teachers, and staff,” Runcie said on a virtual call with the Congressional Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis. “That’s our highest priority. Period.”

For a single mother like Baltimore, who is raising 9- and 10-year-old boys, remote learning creates a child-care conundrum.

“I don’t have anyone to be to supervise them during the school hours at home,” she says. She fears many other parents like her just can’t afford the high costs of child care.

Sandra West, president of the Miami-Dade County Council of Parent Teachers Associations, gives a wider context on concerns parents have.

“The stress is in the unknown,” she says. “School starts in less than a month and they’re not quite sure how it’s going to go.”

The concerns include a lack of interaction if students aren’t in the classroom, which West says is vital to a child’s development.

And then there are major long-term concerns over a learning gap.

“My biggest fear is my boys not knowing how to read or do certain math,” Baltimore says.

Karla Hernández-Mats, president of the Miami-Dade teachers union, says a learning gap can be mitigated down the road — but the loss of life from COVID-19 cannot.

“It’s a gap that every single child in our entire planet is going to be affected by,” she said.

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