Broward schools are ready to reopen to students, administrators said Tuesday. But many employees still disagree.
The School Board is meeting today to decide whether to accept a proposal from Superintendent Robert Runcie to open schools Oct. 5 for elementary, K-8 and special needs schools and Oct. 12 for middle and high schools. Students have been learning at home since late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The disease’s spread has eased and the district has prepared to keep schools and employees safe, Runcie said.
“We can’t let perfect stand in the way of good,” Runcie said. “There’s no way to guarantee we’ll have a 100% COVID-free environment.”
The district’s decision to reopen is based on five “gating criteria,” all of which have either been met or should be met by Oct. 5, Chief Safety Officer Brian Katz said. They are:
A move from Phase 1 to Phase 2 in Broward County’s state approved recovery, which happened last week.
A decline in disease progression and positivity rates, which have been below the targeted 5% threshold for several weeks. The number of new employee cases have also declined, Katz said.
Ability to manage the spread. Katz said health department officials have assured the district they can handle new suspected cases from the school district and can arrange testing within 24 to 48 hours and then begin contact tracing.
Health system capacity. Katz said the hospitalizations have been flat and “barring a significant rise in the cases,” hospital administrators felt ready for schools to open in two weeks.
District safeguards such as personal protective equipment and enhanced cleaning supplies. Katz said he is on track to have needed supplies by Oct. 5, although the district’s unions say supplies have been slow to arrive at schools.
Anna Fusco, president of the Classroom Teachers Association, recommended the district delay reopening until January when the second semester starts to give the district more time to prepare.
“We want to make sure our schools are opening safe,” Fusco said. “We’re in a pandemic. The virus is still happening. People are still dying. If you are OK with having people die under your watch, you vote to open schools when they’re not ready.”
During public speakers, parents were divided on reopening, while employees urged a delay.
Bus driver Teresa McBride said she thinks the district wants to open in October since that’s when student enrollment counts are taken for state funding purposes.
“Let’s be real. We know October is when you do the count. That’s what matters,” said McBride, a 28-year employee. “Well my life, the bus drivers’ lives, the attendants’ and children’s lives, they matter too.”
School district officials say enrollment can be counted regardless of whether students are at school or virtual, and that wasn’t a factor.
Jacyln Strauss, a Fort Lauderdale parent who has urged the district for months to reopen, blasted the district for waiting this long. She said she decided to place her child in a private school with face-to-face learning.
“There was a lack of preparation, foresight and desire to excel and do the best for the children of Broward,” she said. “All I asked for was a choice. You stole that away from all the children.”
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