For the first time since March, parents were dropping kids off at Broward County Public Schools Friday. About 12,500 students made up the first wave of students to return to the schoolhouse.
“It’s been a great day, a great feeling," Superintendent Robert Runcie said at a news conference Friday afternoon. "I think everyone was extremely happy to see students coming back into our classrooms."
Runcie visited several schools Friday. At Plantation Park Elementary, first grade teacher Christina Jones seemed giddy with excitement as she simultaneously taught the kids in her classroom and those who were on their computers at home.
“I feel comfortable," Jones said. "I feel they all have masks, I have a mask, we’re keeping our distance and I feel safe. It’s awesome, it’s very nice to be here helping them.”
This first cohort of students coming back was made up of Pre-K through second graders. Those kids found plenty of room for social distancing in classrooms such as the ones we saw at Broward Estates Elementary, because only about 20 to 25% of Broward’s students have selected the physical learning option, and here’s one possible reason for that low number.
“As you know, African Americans have been disproportionately affected by COVID, so a lot of our parents are playing it safe,” explained school board member Dr. Rosalind Osgood. “They love the e-learning, they’ve become accustomed to it.”
Runcie said his biggest challenge is accommodating teachers who can’t be in the classrooms because of underlying health conditions.
“Obviously we can’t run schools and keep them open if we don’t have teachers in the classroom, so we gotta balance that with being sensitive and recognize there are some individuals with serious conditions and we need to figure out how to accommodate that,” Runcie said.
Everyone is keenly aware of the risks of coronavirus. That’s why every Broward school has an isolation room, a health care professional on campus, and protocols in place to deal with the inevitability of someone testing positive.
“I think with everything there’s a level of risk," said Yassy Comas, who teaches kindergarten at Broward Estates Elementary. "I think it’s also good to move forward and things have to eventually get back to normal. Our kids have been away from school for seven months and they need stability and normalcy in their lives."
Now that schools are opening, Runcie says, it’s crucial to keep them open, which means the community must keep dosing everything possible to continue lowering the COVID-19 positivity rates, and parents need to make sure they don’t sent kids to school if they’re sick.
“We have over 5,000 homeless students in Broward County, with housing insecurity, we have other students in some challenging situations," Runcie said. "They need to be in our schools, that’s the best place for them to be."
The remaining grades can come back to schools next week in stages. Runcie said there were no major glitches to report, except that six schools won’t reopen for another couple of weeks because of construction projects that are not yet finished. Runcie said the delays have been caused by workers testing positive for coronavirus and the pandemic making building supplies unavailable.