By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – Yesterday, Wednesday, July 8th, the Palm Beach County (PBC) School Board met with the Reopening Task Force (RTF) for their third and final ‘Board Workshop’ to review reopening plans, and decided it was not safe to open school campuses given the surging growth of COVID-19 cases with no end in sight.
A final decision on the district’s reopening plans is scheduled to be announced July 15th, at the School Board Meeting, and classes are due to resume August 10th. However yesterday’s decision means the school year will start next month with online-only classes.
In a statement before the Workshop, the school board wrote, ‘Over the past several weeks, the RTF has worked in collaboration with project managers representing all divisions and departments to craft meaningful reopening options while weighing input collected from parents, guardians, and employees through surveys and town hall events.”
During the Workshop, which can be seen online, board members agreed the health risks of reopening outweighed the emotional and educational benefits of in-person classes. “I think the reality is we don’t have a lot of options now but to look at virtual [schooling],” Board Vice Chairman Chuck Shaw said.
The RTF compiled survey results of over 66,000 responses from parents and guardians, as well as over 16,000 school staff, and also held ten virtual town hall events. The key takeaway was that job functions dictated reopening preference, and those that needed to be out of home for work, wanted their kids on school campus.
However after reviewing the presentation in the Workshop the PBC School Board ultimately put health over all other issues. “We’re truly not ready,” board member Marcia Andrews said. “We’re not ready from a health standpoint. And we’re not ready from a planning standpoint.”
Ali Kaufman, founder and CEO of Space of Mind school in Delray Beach said, “Online learning is best when it’s personalized. When learners are in front of technology, their attention is easily diverted by other devices and distractions. It’s best when the learning is engaging to the students, directed to their individual learning styles and that they have a strong relationship with the educator.”
“This is the biggest challenge going into back-to-school season: When we went to distance learning in the spring, students and teachers already had established relationships. In the fall, they will just be getting to know one another – and the new normal that everyone is still figuring out as we go.”
Major hurdles will need to be addressed by the county school board, including technology demands with 82,000 new student devices planned, as well as food services plans which will need to be approved by the USDA. Then there is all the financial implications, including federal and state support.
President Donald Trump called for schools to reopen earlier in the week, tweeting on Monday, “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” and just yesterday threatened to cut federal money to school districts that do not resume in-person classes.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran issued an order calling for Florida’s public schools to offer in-person classes five days a week earlier this week.
“There is a need to open schools fully to ensure the quality and continuity of the educational process, the comprehensive well-being of students and families and a return to Florida hitting its full economic stride,” says the order, which was issued Monday.
However State officials say districts can disregard the order if local health experts deem classroom teaching too dangerous. The state constitution empowers school boards, not the state education commissioner, to “operate, control and supervise” public schools.
Space of Mind’s Kaufman adds some advice for families preparing for the home classrooms. “The most important support parents can offer students who are doing virtual learning is empathy and their time.”
“This is new for everyone – students, teachers and parents – and everyone is already so stressed and scared and exhausted from trying to figure out the last few months and the year ahead,” Kaufman said.
As a source of extra help, Karen Ronald, Executive Director of the Delray Beach Public Library, shares, “The Delray Beach Public Library continues its support of families and students in a virtual learning environment. We provide digital resources and virtual services and experiences for students.”
She continued, “Virtual kindergarten readiness programs on Fridays, Kindergarten Readiness Activity Kits, a Teen Book Club via the Remind app, virtual teen volunteer opportunities, and most importantly the expertise of our librarians available for guidance and mentoring.”