The new school year is here in Broward County as students return to campuses Wednesday for the first day of classes.
Last year, roughly half the students in Broward County Public Schools stayed home for remote learning. This year, everyone’s expected back in the classroom - which creates challenges of its own.
At every school, the teachers know they have their work cut out for them getting kids back up to speed after the “COVID slide” of learning losses. Teachers already know where each student stands academically coming into this year.
Students and Teachers Enjoy First Day of School in Broward County
“Acceleration, not remediation,” said chief academic officer Dan Gohl. “But what we need to make sure of is that we are not limiting this student’s achievements this year based on their performance under COVID."
The educators we met are anxious to meet the kids where they are and punch them forward.
“Oh, we’re super excited to have them and be able to interact with them and see them in person and just give them that love and care and emotional support they need during this time,” said Jennifer Simplice, who teaches math at Fort Lauderdale High.
So what happens when the inevitable quarantine hits, how do kids keep up with their work from home when distance learning is not an option?
The district says students can see their lessons on its Canvas system, they can listen to live audio feeds from their classrooms, and they can get help from a teacher through the Ask BRIA system.
Along with books and pens, many of those students will also be packing face masks in accordance with the district's mask mandate.
The county's school board decided last week to require masks for students and teachers for the beginning of the upcoming school year, amid an increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases in the county and throughout the state.
The board voted 8 to 1 to require masks, while allowing parents who want to opt out to do so with a documented medical waiver.
The decision was made in defiance of Gov. Ron DeSantis' attempts to block schools from imposing mandates. The Republican has insisted that the decision about wearing masks should be made by parents.
The Florida State Board of Education voted to direct Education Commissioner to consider sanctions against Broward and Alachua counties over their mask mandates during an emergency meeting Tuesday.
State Board of Education Chair, Tom Grady, asked the board to authorize and direct the commissioner to investigate further and take all the legal steps to enforce the board rules of the Department of Health and laws that have been "duly enacted by the legislature in accordance with the Florida Constitution."
The district will have a new interim leader after Dr. Vickie Cartwright was chosen last month. In a 5-4 split decision vote, the school board chose Cartwright to be the temporary boss in the time between Robert Runcie’s departure and the hiring of a permanent superintendent.
“You will find an individual that is student-guided, that understands that you must work in partnership with others to ensure that we are meeting the needs of all students,” Cartwright said during her job interview, as she faced questions from board members in a public meeting.
Runcie offered to resign after he was indicted by a state grand jury over a perjury charge. Runcie, 59, led the nation’s sixth largest school district for nearly 10 years and had been lauded for closing the achievement gap between white and minority students.
But the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland in 2018 ultimately led to his downfall. Seventeen people were killed, and the parent of one victim and the wife of another now serve on the school board.
Board member Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed, has been one of Runcie's toughest critics, asking the board to fire him in 2019. That vote failed 6-3.
"We need strong leadership, terminating now without cause gives us time before the next school year to do a national search for a new superintendent," Alhadeff said in April.
Cartwright already has the support of the Broward Teacher’s Union, which pledged to work with her and touted her pro-union stance.
Cartwright also spent 17 years in Orange County Public Schools in Orlando, where she rose to deputy superintendent. The board picked her over Dr. Robert Schiller, who was once the state superintendent of Illinois and deputy superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Cartwright is expected to serve anywhere from six months to a year as the board searches for a permanent candidate.