It’s been a long time. Public schools in South Florida have been locked up for nine weeks, so everyone, including the superintendents of the Miami-Dade and Broward County school districts, wants to know if kids will be physically back in classrooms when the new school year begins in August.
“I think no matter what, we need to be flexible and nimble and be able to pivot quickly with changing conditions,” said Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
“We don’t believe there’s going to be one solution, we believe that we have to be flexible because we don’t know how the school year will emerge, we don’t know the path this pandemic will take,” said Robert Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools.
Notice how each superintendent used the word “flexible,” because they can’t forecast exactly what the school year, or even the first day of school, will look like. They say it’s likely to be a combination of distance learning and classroom instruction, and possibly separate shifts to reduce crowding.
“I believe that we will be in a situation where we’ll have multiple options and alternatives and they might even vary by school,” Runcie said. “We may have students and teachers who have underlying health conditions so we need to enable them to be able to both teach and learn in the distance learning format so we’re going to have a hybrid of all those things going on.”
“That may put us in a position of actually running multiple versions of a school year, different starting times but also utilizing the platforms that were successful during distance learning,” added Carvalho.
Under any on-campus scenario, the superintendents say there will be social distancing, mandatory face masks, one-way hallways and other safety measures in place.
“We are contemplating all of the options, but we are absolutely determined to start the 2020-21 school year in August after careful consideration and review of the health findings at that time,” Carvalho said.
So it seems like a sure bet that school campuses will be open in the fall in some capacity, but what about after-school activities and sports, things that are so crucial to so many kids?
“Our sports, our activities, our clubs, we need to put those in place, we’re closely monitoring what’s going on with professional sports, colleges through the NCAA, and we believe there’s gonna be a path in which we’ll be able to have sports,” Runcie said.
Each district realizes students may face a learning deficit created by the switch to distance learning. Miami-Dade is planning on bringing thousands of lower-performing students back to school two weeks earlier than the start of the regular school year, a virtual catch-up session to try and bring them up to par with their classmates. Broward is also planning a special effort to address that issue.
“As I always say, if you’re doing a long distance race and you stumble, you’ve got to recover and accelerate, so we’re going to have to put things in place to help our students to recover and then accelerate so they can catch up to where they need to be,” Runcie said.
The takeaway here is that everything’s in flux. Nothing is etched in stone. Parents and students should expect disruptions and changes in schedules, perhaps even after the school year begins. So tell your kids not to lose the distance learning skills they’ve developed this year.