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Palm Beach County Officials Discuss Phase Two, Reopening In-Person Classes

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Wilkine Brutus
Palm Beach County Commission meeting

Palm Beach County commissioners say when the county enters the state’s phase two reopening plan, they should not be held responsible for the school district’s decision to reopen brick-and-mortar campuses.

Speaking at an in-person commission meeting today, Commissioner Robert Weinroth acknowledged that the decisions are now linked but that the school district has different metrics to consider. And the county has a different criteria for the overall population that should require a phased reopening into phase two.

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“Blurring of the lines here is certainly making it difficult for us to step back and make a decision that's right for the county,” said Weinroth. “FAU, you didn't look to us. Lynn University didn't look to us. Palm Beach State College didn't look to us. They're making independent decisions. I think it's important for our stakeholders to recognize we are not making the decisions on when the children go back to school.”

Commissioner Melissa McKinlay says Gov. Ron DeSantis and Commissioner Richard Corcoran "dumped that decision" on the county's lap and "put us in a very ugly position.”

"Unfortunately, the governor and his administration have passed the buck on that one. And through financial bullying of threatening to withhold [full-time equivalent] funding to the school district if they neglected to move forward under a countywide phase two order, if they neglected to move forward to reopen, they would lose that funding. Their teachers are now being threatened to be fired,” McKinlay said.

As the COVID-19 positivity lab rate continues on a downward trajectory, McKinlay​ is worried about entering phase two too soon.

"I believe we jumped the gun when we went into phase one," McKinlay​ said. "Those concerns ended up being warranted."

McKinlay is concerned about how the county is going to move forward if businesses and schools are forced to shut down again. The school district would have a week to open up following their move into phase two with the county. She expressed concerns that a week is not enough for the school district to open.

Palm Beach County’s health director Dr. Alina Alonso agreed.

"One week is a blink,” Alonso said, adding that she would “like to see more time” before entering phase two.

Alonso also believes there will be a "small uptick" in COVID-19 cases once campuses reopen. Alonso, who says COVID will increase as we go into flu season, is worried about the systematic approach to monitoring different types of infections in students going into the academic school year because "a child doesn't need to stay home for 14 days if they have a cold."

Under the school district's reopening plan, once the county enters phase two of the state’s reopening plans, parents have the decision to send their students back to brick-and-mortar campuses or continue to keep students at home for distance learning.

Palm Beach commissioners will return with a formal phase two plan by Sept. 1 and decide what measure to send to Gov. DeSantis for approval.

Wilkine Brutus is a reporter and producer for WLRN and a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute. The South Florida native produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs.