A majority of Palm Beach County School Board members said at Wednesday’s meeting that they would be willing to postpone the start of the upcoming school year if coronavirus infections continue to spike.
School Board member Debra Robinson asked her colleagues to “start with the science” and to delay the public schools’ academic year until the rate of new infections declines oce again.
“It can’t be based on the calendar,” said Robinson, who is a retired doctor. “It has to be based on the epidemiology.”
Three other board members – Marcia Andrews, Karen Brill and Chuck Shaw – agreed. Another two board members – Barbara McQuinn and Erica Whitfield – said it was important to open campuses to at least some students by Aug. 10.
Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy said he was “absolutely open to whatever the board decides in terms of pushing the time back.”
Whitfield pointed out that by closing campuses last March and moving to online classes, “we are already doing harm” to many children.
“I really want school to start,” she said. “I think there are children that are really, really suffering from not being in school, and children who have been home without anyone watching them since March.”
She worries about the possibility of more child abuse incidents, poor nutrition, as well as the psychological impact of extended social isolation for children, if campuses remain closed.
On the other hand, Andrews said the rise in cases has her so worried that “I can’t put my finger on any date (to open) right now. It’s about the students’ health right now, and that should be the guide to us.”
Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis believes that extending online classes into a new academic year will end up causing long-lasting harm to children’s educations. Still, he is leaving the decision up to each county’s school board.
Palm Beach County School District officials are discussing a possible delay to the start of the school year, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Florida is seeing a spike in new COVID-19 infections, including 5,511 new cases that were reported on Wednesday.
The district recently created a task force and also distributed a survey to parents, in an effort to determine options for reopening safely in the fall.
In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a series of recommendations for schools, in order to reduce the spread of the virus. The agency noted the risk of the virus spreading increases in these situations:
-Lowest Risk: Students and teachers engage in virtual-only classes, activities, and events.
-More Risk: Small, in-person classes, activities, and events. Groups of students stay together and with the same teacher throughout/across school days and groups do not mix. Students remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects (e.g., hybrid virtual and in-person class structures, or staggered/rotated scheduling to accommodate smaller class sizes).
-Highest Risk: Full sized, in-person classes, activities, and events. Students are not spaced apart, share classroom materials or supplies, and mix between classes and activities.
The district is also considering three education options for when students return: full-time classroom instruction, full-time distance learning, or a hybrid model that would involve students being in the classroom two days a week and then at home for distance learning the other three days a week.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Donald Fennoy says more than 66,000 parents and guardians responded to the district survey asking them which of the three learning models they prefer.
“Right now, a district data team is analyzing all those results,” Dr. Fennoy told board members. “Generally, the respondents were fairly evenly split in their back to school preferences when asked about returning to school full-time, continuing distance learning full-time, or some form of a blended model.”
Officials are expected to make a final decision on the format of the 2020/21 school year on July 15.
Wednesday’s discussion is a virtual meeting.