After arguably the most tumultuous year in its history, the annual State of the Schools address for the Broward County Public Schools district was not the usual roundup of optimistic assessments for the upcoming school year.
Superintendent Robert Runcie said the pandemic had revealed many truths about the importance of schools within our society.
“We’ve awakened to the persistent threat and impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the deadly consequences of what happens when we put politics and ideology over science,” Runcie said.
Runcie pulled no punches in his speech or in his interview with NBC 6, conducted via FaceTime after he finished his address. He told us he’s angry that kids can’t safely go back to classrooms yet because COVID positivity rates are still way too high in Broward County, and pointed the finger directly at what he considers the federal government’s bungled response to the pandemic coupled with the community’s failure to flatten the curve of infections.
“We’re just not getting things done the way we need to in this country in order to be able to open up our schools as we’ve seen in other parts of the world. Our schools don’t exist in a vacuum, they exist in a context of our community and our community has got to improve the outcomes,” Runcie said. “I’m really discouraged, disappointed, quite frankly, upset about the fact that we’ve squandered about five months of opportunity in this country to really get the virus under control, to put in the systems and structures that we would be able to safely reopen our schools.”
Runcie says if students and teacher were to come back to classrooms at the current positivity rates, which have been averaging between 13% and 15% in Broward County, studies show it’s likely that the average school would open up with at least a dozen people walking into the building already infected.
“I think it’s far more disruptive to try to open schools, have them close, then try to recover from the challenges that have been created there,” Runcie said. “Even with schools being closed and only skeletal crews on campus, we’ve recorded more than 200 positive cases among employees.”
So Broward Schools, like Miami-Dade Public Schools, will open with distance learning only. Runcie is promising a much-improved experience, with more live instruction, teachers allowed to instruct from their classrooms, more academic support for high school students, morning and evening sessions for elementary school students, and extensive training for teachers.
“So we’re gonna put in a number of things to make sure that we come as close as possible to what the brick and mortar experience would be, knowing that we can’t fully replace that,” Runcie said.
The superintendent implored the public to “make sacrifices” for our children to get the positivity rate below 5%, which he says is the minimum target to safely bring students and teachers back to school.
“We need to wear masks, we need to avoid crowds, we need to practice physical distancing, we’ve got to do all of these things with a level of diligence and sacrifice so that we are in a better position so that we can open our schools,” Runcie said.
The target date to make a decision is October 1st. Runcie says the School Board will decide by then if the pandemic numbers have improved enough to physically reopen schools for the second marking period, which starts at the end of October.
If the pandemic cooperates, they would start with the hybrid model in which kids would alternate between going to school and doing online learning from home, and then move to the full time, five-day-a-week model if things go well from there.