South Florida public schools are in various stages of reopening. Broward schools open Wednesday morning, while Miami-Dade and Palm Beach county schools open on August 31. Of course, they’re opening virtually, not physically.
That has a huge, negative impact on the economy.
The South Florida Business Council held a webinar Tuesday afternoon with the superintendents of all three counties taking part, answering questions about what businesses can expect as the school year begins. Each superintendent said their districts were hoping to physically reopen schools as soon as possible.
They’re monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic statistics every day, waiting for the positivity rates to get below 5%. That’s the minimum level infectious disease experts recommend for schools to be able to reopen safely for teachers, staff, and students.
“We’re sitting on a positivity rate of 12%, a few months ago it was 6% then it went over 30%,” said Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, explaining the volatility of the pandemic in his county.
The superintendents were asked what the business community could do to help the school districts get back to normal.
Superintendent Donald Fennoy of Palm Beach County Public Schools said businesses could help by being flexible with their employees, since many will have child care issues.
Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said congress needs to pass another pandemic stimulus bill with at least $200 billion for the nation’s public schools to cover the increased expenses of making their buildings safe.
“We believe that the business community has a pretty loud voice, this is a topic they need to rally around and make it a priority because it’s a priority for their bottom line for us to get our schools back on track and it’s gonna be very challenging to do that without adequate funding,” Runcie said. “Push our congressional leaders to pass the next round of stimulus.”
Carvalho agreed, saying the level of federal support for public schools during the 2008 recession was many times greater than what schools have received so far during the pandemic, even though the needs are comparable or even greater now.
Carvalho said the state of Florida is rapidly running out of money, making the situation worse.
“By the end of this calendar year there will be no state reserves, so there could be a special session and we could end up with a massive reduction in K-12 funding, adult training program funding which would be devastating for our school systems and our local economy,” Carvalho said.
Reopening schools is imperative for the economy and for the well-being of students and families. Runcie reminded everyone the only way that can happen, though, is for the community at large to bring the positivity rates down by wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and washing hands often.