What to Know
- The Broward County School Board held an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss the district's reopening date
- The board unanimously approved a staggered reopening that will begin Oct. 9
- Broward County’s school board had previously agreed to a staggered reopening schedule that would have begun Oct. 14
For the second time in the same week, a South Florida school district has been forced by the state to move up its reopening date.
The Broward County School Board approved a staggered physical reopening of schools that will begin Oct. 9. The board voted unanimously for the plan during an emergency meeting Thursday. Miami-Dade County Public Schools voted on Tuesday to start bringing students into the classroom Oct. 5.
The plan calls for pre-K through 2nd grade and self-contained ESE students to start to return for in-person learning starting on Oct. 9. Grades 3 through 6 and 9 will begin to return on Oct. 13 and grades 7-8 and 10-12 will start to return on Oct. 15. A teacher planning day is set for Oct. 8.
“What are we even talking about here? Why are we in a position to where we have polarized a situation such as a plan to send children and teachers back to school safely,” State Rep. Shevrin Jones asked at a news conference outside the school district building Thursday morning.
The sequence of events began with Broward Schools telling the state in August that it would reopen schools at the end of the first marking period if pandemic conditions permitted it do so. The Department of Education approved the plan and the Board set a date of Oct. 14 to begin staggered reopening for students who chose that option.
Then on Monday, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran rescinded his approval, saying for the benefit of students, Broward Schools should reopen no later than Oct. 5 -- as other districts in the state have done -- or face funding cuts. Potentially huge cuts, from $70 million to more than $300 million.
It was monkey wrench suddenly thrown into the district’s plans.
“With all of that planning, politics could throw all that out the window,” said Superintendent Robert Runcie.
Runcie said the situation was frustrating, but he was diplomatic compared to the teachers union president.
“The elected BTU president does not tolerate bullies, and I sure do not tolerate threats nor accept it,” said BTU president Anna Fusco. “It doesn’t make any sense, I personally feel we need to stand up and I don’t want to say call his bluff but to say no.”
During the meeting, at least four board members indicated they were ready to defy Corcoran, since the district’s plan had already been accepted once by his agency.
“We have followed exactly what we said we were going to do," said board member Laurie Rich-Levinson. "You cannot hold money over our heads and think that we’re gonna do what’s not in the best interest of our families and our students."
Newly elected incoming board member Sarah Leonardi agreed.
“I am angry that our governor and our commissioner of education are dangling hundreds of millions of dollars over the heads of students and teachers over some bizarre political game that they are playing,” Leonardi said.
Corcoran was watching the livestream of the meeting and offered a compromise, pushing the dates back. So instead of having a mandatory teacher planning day on Oct. 5, that would occur on Oct. 8, with the kids coming back in stages.
But school board chair Donna Korn said the fiscal realities could not be ignored.
“For me there is a greater risk in education for Broward County school students if we have to face a $300 dollar deficit,” Korn said during the meeting.
“I can tell you that on principle, yes, it makes sense for us to go and fight this, but sometimes you have to lose to win,” Runcie said.
Runcie said the “courage” of the board members to defy Corcoran might have been the factor that gave the district a few more days to get schools ready for reopening.
"My position was we're asking for literally just about nine additional days so that we can do our planning in an orderly fashion," Runcie said at Thursday's meeting. "This modification in our reopening date certainly presents some significant challenges for teachers, staff, the entire district in terms of executing. We face lots of challenges here in Broward, I mean, we'll figure out a way to step up to this."
Runcie said that by not moving the reopening date up, the district may lose out on funding.
"What’s at risk here for us is financial impact, the state has the ability to hold the purse strings of the district and I can tell you that on principle yes, it makes sense for us to go and fight this, but sometimes you have to lose to win," Runcie said. "And when we have significant dollars at stake that can impact our teachers, our classrooms, our students, we have a responsibility to make sure that that doesn't happen and that they are protected."
Before Thursday's meeting, Broward’s teachers union officials pleaded with school board leaders to not move up the reopening date.
Fusco was joined by community leaders and parents at the event in front of the school administration building in Fort Lauderdale, where Fusco expressed concern over reports that state leaders threatened to withhold funding if the date was not moved up.
"We are talking six school days between opening up Oct. 6 and 14th," Fusco said while expressing concern over safely reopening the schools. "I've read what Corcoran wrote."
"We know the students need to get back into schools," Fusco said. "We want them to do it safe."
Runcie had told NBC 6 that he believes Broward is already in compliance with the state’s demands, because the district’s plan for reopening, which was previously approved by the state, lists the end of the first marking period as the time when the district would resume in-person classes.
The Miami-Dade School Board voted unanimously Tuesday to start in-person learning Oct. 5 but not every student will return to the classroom at once. Pre-K students, kindergarteners, first graders, and students with special needs on a modified curriculum will return Monday.
"This issue will not die and I promise you if we make a mistake on this one, God have mercy on our state," Jones said.