By: Felipe Rivas
2 min read July 2020 — Forced to switch from in person learning to remote instruction seemingly overnight, Palm Beach education leaders are now planning the reopening of county campuses as the 2020-21 academic year nears its August start date. The reopening of public schools has been a contentious topic among parents, policymakers and educators, all of whom have different visions for the reopening process.
The Palm Beach County School Board convened on Wednesday to discuss what the reopening of county public schools could look like under the coronavirus landscape. The Palm Beach County School Board is likely to approve its reopening plans, which will feature a mixture of distance education and a phased reopening process, according to the Sun Sentinel. With this approach, the youngest of each grade category will be among the first students to return to the classroom, along with those students with special needs. This would include students in pre-K, kindergarten, first grade, sixth grade and ninth grade, the paper reported.
Further complicating the difficult reopening process, many teachers and parents fear that opening campuses would not be safe given the recent spikes in cases and Florida’s standing as the epicenter of coronavirus cases worldwide. Florida has reported 301,810 cases of the virus and 4,521 deaths as of Wednesday, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Dashboard.
Not everyone is on board with strictly online classes, either. Some Palm Beach County parents gathered in front of the Palm Beach County School District’s headquarters on Monday to protest school officials’ decision to bar students from campuses and deliver only online classes at the start of the new school year. Among the parents’ chief concerns are the needs of students with disabilities, or those struggling with the online learning environment, and the needs of parents who have to choose between working or taking care of their children, the Palm Beach Post reported.
According to the Palm Beach County School Board’s agenda, Palm Beach County Public School Superintendent Donald Fennoy is recommending “starting the school year with distance learning for all students and allowing for a phased return to brick and mortar in-person instruction when county health conditions permit.”
At the university level, institutions like Florida Atlantic University are also likely to begin the school year with an emphasis on remote learning while enforcing mask measures and strict social distancing rules for students and staff present on campus. Florida Atlantic University President John Kelly announced in late June that the university’s fall 2020 reopening plans were approved by the State University System of Florida Board of Governors. The school’s 25-page plan features the requirement of face coverings, with most classes remaining online, including classes with more than 50 students and all graduate-level courses, according to the university. Classrooms are to remain at 25 percent capacity and faculty, staff, and students will be required to observe social distancing measures while in the classroom.
Each of the state’s 12 public universities was required to file such a plan. School leaders still have to submit their reopening plans to the Florida Department of Education for final approval by July 31, 2020.
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