MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – The Miami-Dade School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to delay the start of in-person instruction to at least Oct. 14.
Students would return to school in a staggered approach, with all students in physical classrooms by Oct. 21.
Superintendent of Schools Alberto Carvalho initially recommended Monday that students return on the following dates:
Pre-Kindergarten through 1st Grade
Elementary School Grades 2-5
Middle School Grade 6
High School Grades 9-10
Middle school Grades 7-8
High School Grades 11-12
“The intent this progressive staggered approach is to allow school sites to test their health and social distancing protocols and make necessary adjustments,” Carvalho said.
On Tuesday, School Board Member Dr. Steve Gallon made a motion to delay the start of a staggered return until Oct. 5. School Board members then decided to push that date even further back.
“I did not sleep all night because I do take every public comment very seriously and I too heard the desperation, and I too heard the plea of our employees, our teachers, our parents. It was emotional,” School Board Member Lubby Navarro said.
Carvalho ultimately supported the school board’s decision.
“The board’s decision is an important decision," he said. “It provides additional time to redouble our efforts in terms of ensuring all protocols are what they are expected to be, in terms of mitigation strategies, in terms of testing all of our systems.”
The teachers union, United Teachers of Dade, also welcomed the news.
“Today’s School Board decision to delay the start of face-to-face instruction until October 14 reflected a collective effort from a community that has been appropriately concerned about the potentially disastrous impact of prematurely reopening physical classrooms," UTD President Karla Hernández-Mats said in a statement. "We are thankful for all the educators, parents, and students who participated in the discussions taking place regarding the reopening of schools.
"Thanks to their collective efforts, there will be more safety measures implemented prior to the reopening our schoolhouses. This additional time will also allow our community of educators and parents to continue moving forward with more confidence that safety measures will be in place to mitigate the impact of this pandemic. We need to keep monitoring the progression of this deadly disease to make sure that all possible safety considerations—room for 6 ft of physical distancing, universal facial covering in buildings, hand-washing stations, resources and staff for rigorous cleaning, and enhanced ventilation measures—are all in place well before the board approved plan can be executed. These common-sense health measures reflect the care and compassion we demand for our children, educators, district staff and our community. We will continue to follow along closely the progress of each and every school with our community campaign #SafeSchoolsSFL to protect against COVID-19 and safeguard the well-being of our children.”
At the beginning of Monday’s meeting, the secretary announced that more than 700 speakers signed up to voice their thoughts, equaling a whopping 18 1/2 hours. A total of 662 of those speakers were parents of Miami-Dade students.
That means the meeting continued Tuesday with public comments.
One by one, concerned parents and teachers aired their uneasiness about returning to the classroom.
“To reopen physically before our school district has been fully prepared to do so would be irresponsible, reckless and a moral endangerment,” one teacher said.
While the details are still being hashed out, here’s what you can likely expect on Day One: Everyone has to wear masks, including on the bus. Only one student will be allowed per seat.
Each school will have an isolation room, complete with a dedicated nurse.
When it comes to social distancing, students will at least have to stay three feet apart.
Lunches will be pre-packaged.
And expect increased cleaning procedures.
But in a recorded comment overnight, at least one teacher said he hasn’t received any supplies from district officials.
“Teachers have been provided with absolutely no safety glass or safety materials to help prepare their classroom,” he said.
One school board member also showed concern over not having enough staff to do all of this.
“Since 360 instructional personnel have resigned and 76 non-instructional have also resigned,” Mari Tere Rojas said.
But Carvalho assured the board that principals at each school have the resources to hire more people if needed.
“I don’t think that we can say, ‘We are ready,’ and again, ‘We will be ready’ is different to me than ‘We are ready to open up those classrooms,’” Rojas said.
Appearing Sunday on Local 10′s “This Week in South Florida,” Hernández-Mats said: “Let’s do it, but let’s do it properly. Let’s have six feet of social distancing. Let’s have small class sizes. Let’s make sure that the proper PPE and ventilation are in every single one of those rooms.”
Hernández-Mats on Monday told the school board that she believed school sites are not yet prepared with the resources and protocols to reopen in a safe way.
She said teachers have overcrowded rosters that make social distancing difficult, custodial staffs are short to handle the necessary cleaning, and she noted that the district’s medical expert Dr. Aileen Marty said in last week’s meeting that only six of the eight benchmarks for reopening have been met.
“Until each and every one of you is willing to share the risks that you are exposing your staff and communities to, you are yourselves tacitly acknowledging that it is not safe to reopen,” one teacher said.
Monday’s meeting comes less than a week after the presidents of the teachers' unions in Miami-Dade and Broward voiced their concerns about returning to face-to-face instruction.
The teachers' unions in Miami-Dade Broward accused Gov. Ron DeSantis and Richard Corcoran, the state’s commissioner of education, of threatening to take away funding from districts to pressure the reopening of classrooms in October when funding is considered.
The Florida Department of Education determines how much funding the district receives by conducting surveys on Oct. 5-9 and Feb. 8-12. The district’s decision to reopen without a clear safety plan and time to train and prepare is based on the link between funding and student population, Hernández-Mats said.
But according to Miami-Dade School District officials, no matter when schools reopen, a July 6 executive order guaranteed funding for the fall semester.
Monday’s virtual meeting can be seen below:
Miami-Dade School Board meets to discuss timeline for physical reopening
WATCH LIVE: Miami-Dade School Board meets to discuss timeline for physical reopening https://bit.ly/33PqOd5Posted by WPLG Local 10 on Monday, September 21, 2020
Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco said the rush to get funding is pushing the districts to reopen classrooms without following the proper safety guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The union leaders said the parameters requested are within the American Federation of Teachers' blueprint.
Fusco said one important question to the district has gone unanswered: “What will you do when the deaths start happening?”
Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade Public Schools, said in a statement last week that the district is following national and state health guidance to ensure that schools are sanitized and well maintained.
“The wellbeing of our students and our workforce is always at the forefront of our actions,” Gonzalez-Diego wrote. “Our approach to the reopening of schools is based on science and is informed by what is happening at the local level.”
On Friday, the School Board met with a medical task force about Miami-Dade’s positivity rate, as well as safety precautions that will be in effect once children return to school.
“I think that it would be wise for, again for the families that choose to stay home and have their children do online, that choice is theirs and we respect it fully and completely,” the school board member Rojas said. “And for those families that want their children brick to mortar, back to school, face-to-face, I think it has been addressed here that the steps necessary have been taken.”