Teachers Reflect on Mostly Smooth First Day of School in Broward

At one point, there were roughly 200,000 BCPS students on the online learning platform Canvas, using it successfully at the same time. 

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It did not go off without a hitch.

The first day of school Wednesday for Broward County Public Schools was an all-virtual, all-online experience. It was mostly smooth except for a system crash, which the district says happened between 8:30 a.m. and 8:55 a.m., when secondary school students were logging in to Canvas while elementary students and teachers were already on. Superintendent Robert Runcie said the issue was fixed and will not reoccur.

At one point, he said, there were roughly 200,000 students on the system, using it successfully at the same time. 

So how was the new distance learning experience? One saw one major difference -- teachers instructing from their classrooms. Runcie visited Nova Blanche Forman Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale to see the system in action. 

With the superintendent looking over her shoulder, Skylar Billingsley tried to connect with every student in her fourth grade class. The kids were on her computer screen, not in their desks. 

The plan at every level of is to have teachers devote their time to trying to establish relationships with their students. Cindy Rosenthal of New River Middle School has been teaching for 32 years. She says this version of distance learning is better than last year’s, but it cannot replicate the classroom experience. 

“I never signed up to be a virtual teacher," Rosenthal said from her classroom. "I miss my kids and that’s why I’m here today. Look at this space -- this is a space that’s welcoming and inviting. I work hard to make it that way, so do I think this is going to be better? Yes, because I am trying and I have all these new tools and I’m going to reach them because we’ve prepared for it."

Ari Odzer has reaction from the county's superintendent as students will begin the 2020-21 school year learning from home.

Teachers have the option but are not required to teach from their classrooms. 

Attiya Batool brought her son along to her classroom at Nova Blanche Forman. She taught her fourth graders while he was connected with his second grade class through his computer. 

“Obviously, we would love to see all our kids and families lining up and coming in with their bright and eager smiles, but we’d rather have our kids and teachers safe,” Runcie said. 

Ashley Trimble told us teaching from her classroom at New River Middle makes it seem more like school for herself and for her students. 

“I’m hoping that I can build a bond with them and get to know them, but nothing is the same as getting in the classroom, doing labs, high-fiving them," Trimble said. "I can’t do that here."

The target COVID-19 positivity rate before Broward Schools says it can safely reopen campuses is a maximum of 5%. As of Wednesday, Broward’s rate was 6.1, so the trend is going in the right direction. 

“The moment we see the trend lines going in the right direction, we will not hesitate a moment to move forward to open our schools and get our kids back in the classroom,” Runcie said, reiterating the district’s stance.

Enrollment, Runcie said, is down by about 6,900 in Broward Schools. He attributes that to parents seeking other educational options, such as private schools or home schooling, during the pandemic. 

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