Palm Beach County public schools on Wednesday imposed strict social distancing rules for employees, while making plans to cut back on school supplies and eliminating dozens of jobs.
School district administrators explained that they are considering three plans for starting the school year on Aug. 10.
Some leaders are supporting a “hybrid” model identical to one being considered in Broward. Under such a scenario, students would attend in-person classes twice weekly, while learning from home the remainder of the week.
Palm Beach school administrators said combining online learning and classroom lessons would allow schools to implement social distancing measures while also giving students the social and educational benefits of face-to-face interactions.
However, officials emphasized at a school board meeting on Wednesday that they continue to research and survey parents.
They are also considering the possibilities of keeping schools online-only or reopening the schools completely. A final decision is expected to be made in July.
In addition, administrators plan to reduce spending on school supplies by as much as half at many of the district’s nearly 180 campuses, although schools that serve mostly poor children would see either smaller reductions or none at all.
The Palm Beach School District also expects to eliminate 48 jobs and 163 vacant administrative positions. None of the affected employees would be fired, although some would be transferred into other positions. In addition, no positions on school campuses would be affected.
“School staffing remains untouched,” Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy said.
Those cutbacks, along with spending and hiring freezes already in place, would be carried out even if the state’s government does not cut public school money this year.
Doing so would save the district at least $35 million, providing the schools with a financial cushion in case the state cuts education funding later in the year, officials said.
Officials may take more drastic measures, such as increasing class sizes, cutting work days for some school employees and merging staffs at smaller schools, if the situation worsens.
School board members also approved new emergency protocols for school employees, in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections on campus.
Watch the Palm Beach County School Board's virtual workshop at 2 p.m. live on television or online: https://t.co/clO9SLUfH4 pic.twitter.com/ArW1mLD87V
— PBCSD (@pbcsd) June 10, 2020
Until at least Sept. 10, all employees on school property will be required to wear face coverings and to remain six feet away from colleagues at all times.
They will be also barred from congregating in groups of more than 10, or from sharing personal or work supplies with colleagues.
Any district employee who is diagnosed with COVID-19 must alert their supervisor within 24 hours. Any employee 65 or older or with serious underlying medical conditions may request approval to work from home.
The rules do not affect students. Several parents called into the virtual meeting to voice opposition any requirements that students be required to wear masks when the schools reopen.
Fennoy added that the possibility of mask requirements for students “is going to be part of that conversation” about reopening plans, but the district had no current plans to do so.
Larry Clawson, who is a Palm Beach district administrator guiding the task force, explains that under a “hybrid” model being considered, half of the students would attend class in person on Mondays and Tuesday, while the other half attend class on Wednesdays and Thursdays, very similar to a plan being explored by the Broward school system.
Students would learn online on the days they are not on campus, while classrooms would remain empty on Fridays so that teachers and administrators can conduct parent and staff meetings, and classrooms can be cleaned.
A final decision on the district’s reopening plans is scheduled to be announced on July 15.
Broward students may have the option to attend school just two days a week this fall.
The Broward School District has developed a plan of school reopening scenarios, which the School Board plans to discuss this Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Palm Beach County School Board planned to unveil its plans or options at a workshop Wednesday afternoon.
According to The South Florida Sun Sentinel, the Broward proposals include:
-Continued distance learning. Under this scenario, students would remain online-only in the fall.
-Staggered times. Half of the students would attend in the morning and the other half in the afternoon four days a week. The fifth day would be used for cleaning and disinfecting the campus.
-Staggered days. Half of the students would go to classrooms two days a week, possibly Monday and Tuesday, and the other half on Thursday and Friday, with Wednesday being a cleaning day.
2020/21 school year calendar – color, black and white, and accessible versions – available at https://t.co/bcu5yhf0il. The first day of school is August 19. pic.twitter.com/XgveRbD9kU
— Broward Schools (@browardschools) June 8, 2020
-High school students at home. High schools would be used to provide extra space so that elementary, middle and adult schools could have room for social distancing. In addition, high schoolers would continue virtual learning.
-In-person school limited to high-needs students. Students with disabilities, limited English skills, struggling readers in early elementary grades and those taking career and vocational programs would attend school in person. Additionally, distance learning would continue for others.
-Limited enrollment. Schools would serve the same students but limit enrollment on the physical campus. Distance learning would continue for others.
“The initial feedback suggests a preference for staggered days, with each school having some implementation flexibility,” a draft report says.
Another factor that is expected to limit enrollment is parental choice.
A recent school district survey of 72,000 Broward families found that 36 percent want students to continue distance learning full-time. On the other hand, 25 percent prefer a full reopening of in-person learning, while another 33 percent want a hybrid of on-campus and at-home learning. The remaining six percent of respondents are unsure.