With the clock winding down on the issue of how to start the upcoming school year in the coronavirus pandemic, the superintendent of schools in Broward County says it could start the way last year ended: not in a classroom.
During a workshop meeting Tuesday to address reopening, Superintendent Robert Runcie says he will recommend distance learning as the sole option to start the 2020-21 school year as the numbers have not improved in terms of positive cases of the virus in the county.
“That is the only way we can educate our students while keeping them and their teachers healthy and safe,” Runcie said.
Runcie did not close the door on the idea that students could return to classrooms at some point during the upcoming year.
“When conditions improve, and we hope it will not be too distant, additional options would be introduced including face-to-face,” he added.
All of the board members expressed support for Runcie’s position.
“We cannot put people at risk to die, we can’t be a part of killing people,” said board member Dr. Rosalind Osgood.
Runcie said survey results show 32 percent of parents prefer distance learning, 32 percent want the hybrid option of alternating between home and classroom instruction, and 31 percent want their kids in school full-time, five days a week.
“The fact is, we would all like to get back to normal but for now, normal has to be within the context of COVID-19,” Runcie said.
Runcie said the district will be ready to pivot as soon as conditions make that possible. If the pandemic numbers get better, the hybrid and possibly the full-time options will be made available, but the community needs to step up to make that happen.
“It will require each and every one of us to help contain community spread by wearing masks and physical distancing, there is no other way,” Runcie said.
Last week, Runcie said Broward Public Schools are working to comply with the state’s order requiring schools to reopen this fall but said it will be up to the district to determine how schools will reopen.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran ordered public schools to reopen for the 2020-2021 school year with "the full panoply of services for the benefit of Florida students and families."
Schools throughout the state closed in March amid the coronavirus pandemic, with students shifting to online learning.
In his emergency order, Corcoran stressed the importance of reopening brick and mortar schools to students.
"There is a need to open schools fully to ensure the quality and continuity of the education process, the comprehensive well-being of students and families and a return to Florida hitting its full economic stride," Corcoran wrote.
Broward Schools, like others, are weighing their options, looking at full-time remote learning, a possible hybrid model in which students alternate between staying at home and going to class, and a return to full time instruction in the classroom.
Runcie said that in a recent parent survey that received more than 72,000 responses, 26% percent supported full-time remote learning, 37% supported the hybrid model, and 34% supported full-time in-class instruction.
The Broward Teachers Union supports the full-time school model, but only if social distancing and other safety precautions are instituted.
“The best case scenario is that we would love to be in the classrooms with our students, but this virus is still spreading fast, we have to pay attention,” said Anna Fusco, the BTU president. “This is what we have now, let’s figure out what will make it work and let's work together as a team.”
Fusco said the teachers are ready for additional training on how to improve the distance learning experience, and Runcie said that training will be happening soon.