The Miami-Dade County Public Schools board voted unanimously Tuesday for a staggered reopening plan that would reopen schools no sooner than Oct. 14.
The board voted for staggered reopening to begin for students whose parents chose the district's Schoolhouse model for stage two. Other students would continue with virtual learning. All grades will be back and the district fully operational by Oct. 21. A teacher planning day is set for Oct. 13. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho will announce later this week what exact date he wants the staggering phase to start.
The decision comes after a marathon virtual school board meeting that included voicemails from more than 700 people, mostly parents and teachers, voicing their opinions -- mostly concerns -- about reopening brick-and-mortar schools. The public comment section of Monday's meeting amounted to more than 18 hours of commentary.
"I think the board listened carefully to the input from the community for hours from hundreds of teachers who expressed, many of them concerns, over health conditions in our community, and I believe that it is a decision that is intended to protect other students but also to protect the workforce," Carvalho said.
The reopening plan would bring in younger students from pre-K, Kindergarten and first grade and students with disabilities on a modified curriculum into schools first. The following grades will come in after that, cumulating with 11th and 12th grade students. The district hasn't released specific dates.
Earlier Monday, Carvalho proposed the staggered reopening plan to start Sept. 30.
“It seems like a methodical approach, very thoughtful, addressing all the health experts’ concerns,” school board member Dr. Lubby Navarro said of Carvahlo's earlier plan.
“If it feels rushed, it doesn’t feel right, and I’m not speaking directly to the decision to reopen, I’m speaking for me, the sentiment around this discussion," Dr. Steve Gallon said.
“I hope that we’re able to open the schools and not have to go back to virtual learning," Dr. Marta Perez said.
The health experts on the district's task force have already approved of the district’s plans for HVAC upgrades, sanitizing protocols, social distancing measures, mandatory facial coverings, and other measures at every school.
"Our plan relies on science, our plan relies on the advice of public health and medical experts," Carvalho said.
Teachers want to see their students back in their classrooms, too.
“There isn’t an easy solution and we all get it,” said Jen Kaelin, who teaches AP physics at Jose Marti MAST Acaemy.
She says after delaying the start of school by a week, and then losing a week to the K12 learning platform failure, turning two instructional days into planning days next week puts them even further behind.
“There has to be a better way and I feel like there hasn’t been communication with the teachers,” said Kaelin.
Social media was full of commentary from teachers. A middle school teacher tweeted this during Monday’s virtual meeting, “How is it that a population of students and teachers can be on campus in less than two weeks but this group of adults can’t be in the same room to discuss it?”
There was a a lot of discussion in that meeting about social distancing, with board members questioning whether it can be enforced, and whether there will be room in schools if more students then expected opt to come back instead of staying home for distance learning.
“So what assurances do we have that there are indeed fewer students in those classrooms?” Rojas asked.
“We recognize that a likelihood of a six-foot distance is close to impossible,” Carvalho answered. “That is why the mandatory wearing of masks is so important.”
Miami-Dade and Broward were moved to Phase 2 of reopening last week, allowing for the physical reopening of schools.
Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie was expected to recommend a reopening date of Oct. 5 at a meeting on Tuesday.
Schools in both counties have been operating under distance learning since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.