The superintendent of Broward County Public Schools said the physical reopening of schools could begin as early as next month as long as positive trends continue in the coronavirus fight.
Superintendent Robert Runcie held a news conference Tuesday with school board and teacher's union officials to discuss the district's progress toward reopening.
"If the current trends continue and we can maintain them and we continue on this path of improvement we will be in a position to reopen schools and be able to open them in a phased approach, that can occur as early as sometime in October," Runcie said.
Broward's public schools began classes last month through distance learning while the county continues to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Runcie last month said Labor Day would be a key checkpoint to project a reopening date, and told the school board that online classes were no substitute for face-to-face instruction.
"The good news is everything's trending right now in a positive direction so we're encouraged about that and we continue to ask our community for the sake of our kids and this district to give us the opportunity to open and open safely and successfully by continuing to practice all the health and safety protocols that we've been advised to over the past several months," Runcie said.
Broward trails only Miami-Dade in COVID-19 cases in the state, and the two counties are the only ones in Florida that remain in Phase 1 of reopening.
But the county has seen downward trends in new cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations since late July.
Runcie said that while the positivity rate was a leading indicator for whether to reopen schools, the ability of the district to perform COVID-19 tests rapidly was another major factor.
"We don't want to open schools, be in a situation where there's, let's say an outbreak in a classroom. If we can't adequately test and rapidly test then we're going to be interrupting the education process for 14 days or so at a time," Runcie said.
The district also said they can't move forward with reopening until the county is into Phase 2. A school board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 22, and a potential reopening date was expected to be discussed.
Runcie said there may be some schools where full-time face-to-face learning may not be possible right away.
"We need to be prepared for a challenging school year which could be a roller coaster when it comes to the virus. At the end of the day it's about keeping our employees, our teachers, and our students as safe as possible," he said.