Broward County Public Schools wants its students back in the classroom.
"We’re strongly encouraging parents to return to school for face-to-face instruction," said Superintendent Robert Runcie.
Runcie says the district could double the amount of students currently engaged in face-to-face learning at schools and still have plenty of room for physical distancing - since only about 25% of the student population is in the classroom now.
Runcie wants parents to know that national research and local statistics show that schools are not covid-spreader environments.
There’s also a feeling of urgency, because the district says remote learning has created widespread learning losses, which educators feared would happen. Runcie said the amount of students who have received multiple F’s on assignments, across all grade levels, has more than doubled from pre-pandemic levels.
"E-learning has worked great for some kids, for many others it’s been an enormous challenge," Runcie said. "I don’t think that reflects the abilities of our students, it reflects the environment and circumstances that we’re in."
"There’s definitely a problem happening. We have a 42% higher failure rate for students and I really think the problem is engagement," said school board member Debbi Hixon. "Some students are doing E-learning fine but a large majority of them are not, you listen to the students, they talk about how stressed they are, this is effecting their mental health."
Hixon’s comments were echoed by board member Laurie Rich Levinson.
"My concern for our students in the first semester of school is that they’re suffering academically, emotionally and physically," Rich Levinson said. "They’re emotionally isolated and getting little or no exercise physically."
I asked her in our Zoom interview if the school board’s goal is to get more kids to come back to the classroom.
"Absolutely, the goal is for students to come back, provided it’s the choice their family wants to make," Rich Levinson responded. "For the elementary schools, it’s really important, our kindergarten and first grade learners, maybe their first time in schools, and we need to be teaching them a love of learning."
Hixon pointed out that using the same E-Learning 2.0 model, in which students in classrooms use their laptops and teachers essentially instruct the kids at home and the ones in their classrooms simultaneously, is not good enough.
"There has to be a reason that students want to come into the school," Hixon said.
The district’s answer is to make the in-classroom experience more like traditional, pre-pandemic school. Runcie says where it’s possible, teachers will be able to concentrate solely on instructing the students in their classrooms, and E-learners will have separate teachers.
"To the greatest extent possible, we’re going to make that experience more traditional, we may not be able to accomplish it in all cases but we’re going to look at it in a school by school basis but that is our intent, that is how we’re looking at opening a new semester, we’re gonna organize from that foundation."