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By Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporter

DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA – Yesterday the Palm Beach County school district released the agenda and reopening plan for the School Board Meeting vote tomorrow, Wednesday, July 15th. The plan ties the school reopening to the State’s guidelines, and clarifies students will only be back on campus when the County is in ‘Phase 2’.

School, Opening, Delray Beach, Palm Beach County, Florida
Major hurdles will need to be addressed by the county school district, including technology demands with 82,000 new student devices planned, photo internet recreation.

Dr. Donald Fennoy, Palm Beach County School Superintendent, released the 52-page plan that defines for the first time the specific roadmap to reopening the district’s approximately 180 campuses for 174,000 students.

Over the weekend School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri, Jr., criticized school administrators for having not released the detailed plan yet, to better explain how ‘distance learning’ will proceed.

In the board meeting agenda, Superintendent Fennoy writes, “I recommend the Board approve the attached 2020-21 School Reopening Plan, including starting the school year with distance learning for all students.”

It continues, “and allowing for a phased return to brick and mortar in-person instruction when county health conditions permit, and delegate to Superintendent the authority to implement this plan as necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of students and employees.”

As part of the introduction in the plan, it confirms that Governor DeSantis moved Palm Beach County into Phase 1 on May 11th, and while most other Florida counties moved to Phase 2 on June 5th, it is ‘important to note Palm Beach County remains in Phase 1 as of today.’ As part of the state’s definition of Phase 1, schools remain distance learning.

The plan also presents the surging numbers of new COVID-19 cases, and notes that there were less than seventy new cases per day when District schools were initially closed in mid-March, while today the daily average number of cases exceeds 400.

Also stating that in the county over 3,000 children under the age of 18 have been tested for COVID-19 to-date, with more than 1,000 testing positive, which represents a thirty percent positivity rate, with two children under the age of 18 passing away as a result of COVID-19.

School, Opening, Delray Beach, Palm Beach County, Florida
PBC School Board Superintendent, Dr. Fennoy, was at Elbridge Gale Elementary School dining and swapping stories with students last year, press photo.

The reopening plan proceeds to set new and more defined structure to distance learning, starting with expectations for teachers, and set daily schedules for elementary, middle school and high school students. Teachers would be required to give live classes every day, take attendance at the start of each online class and hold daily office hours.

The plan sets a critical goal to ensure each student and teacher has access to a laptop with a camera for distance learning. Currently the district says they have over 61,000 student Chromebooks and 12,000 teach Chromebooks distributed for distance learning.

A new purchase of another 82,000 additional devices are planned, with deliveries to begin on August 17th and will continue with 10,000 units per week. This is drawing $25,063,721 in funding from IT Capital Budget.

Acknowledging that many students still lack regular high-speed internet access, the district is moving to offer new options, including installing wireless internet “hot spots” in several low-income communities and sponsoring internet accounts for needy families.

When the county does enter Phase 2, the youngest students at each school would be the first to return, kindergartners and first-graders at the elementary level, sixth-graders at middle schools, and freshman at high schools.

Before schools begin reopening, parents would be asked to complete an “intent questionnaire” indicating whether they intend to send their child to in-person classes.

As Palm Beach Post reported, teachers union President Justin Katz said yesterday, “There are no good options here, only safe and unsafe ones, CTA believes the district has, rightly so, dedicated itself to ensuring our students and employees are safe.”

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