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Miami-Dade School Board Votes For Students To Return To In-Person Classes Starting Oct. 14

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Superintendent Alberto Carvalho presents his proposal for reopening schools during a virtual meeting on Sept. 21`. The board voted the next day to bring students back to schools no earlier than Oct. 1`4.

The Miami-Dade school board opted for to wait until mid-October to reopen, citing the district's lack of preparation.

This story was updated Tuesday, Sept. 22, at 5:40 p.m.

The Miami-Dade County school board voted unanimously to reopen school buildings starting Oct. 14, pushing back Superintendent Alberto Carvalho’s proposed start date for in-person classes by two weeks following last month’s disastrous implementation of remote learning.

School board members castigated Carvalho and his leadership team for not seeking more input from them in developing the reopening plan and argued the district should have been ready to bring students back sooner.

“We had six months, six entire months … to be able to answer the questions that we’re having now, to be able to meet with medical experts,” said school board chair Perla Tabares Hantman. “We had six months. That’s half a year that we had to be able to be prepared, and I’m just not convinced that we have reached that point.”

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School board member Steve Gallon III said he was “vexed” that he and his colleagues received the details of Carvalho’s plan one minute before the start of Monday’s meeting.

“I’ve been on the other side,” Gallon said, referring to his own time as a superintendent in New Jersey, “and I understand that sometimes this may or may not be part of a strategy, of a strategic — I’ll use the word — ambush. I’m not suggesting that, but I understand sometimes that’s how things are handled. I still find it unacceptable [that] something this serious, … we don’t have an opportunity to deliberate over.”

The board amended Carvalho’s proposal not only to delay his staggered reopening but also to add language requiring a formal recommendation from medical experts and ensuring the full distribution of personal protective equipment before opening schoolhouse doors.

Board members sought those assurances, in part, as a response to a union-led campaign and a flood of comments from teachers arguing school buildings are not outfitted with the staff and supplies to successfully stop the spread of the coronavirus.

In a statement, United Teachers of Dade President Karla Hernandez-Mats said the decision was a reflection of "a collective effort" from concerned community members.

"We are thankful for all the educators, parents, and students who participated in the discussions taking place regarding the reopening of schools. Thanks to their collective efforts, there will be more safety measures implemented prior to the reopening [of] our schoolhouses. This additional time will also allow our community of educators and parents to continue moving forward with more confidence that safety measures will be in place to mitigate the impact of this pandemic."

The board’s vote followed a virtual meeting that streamed continuously for more than 28 hours. In a highly unusual move, the board chose not to adjourn the meeting that began at 11 a.m. Monday until after the Tuesday afternoon vote, playing 18 hours of public comment — voicemails from nearly 800 people — overnight.

If the local elected officials had decided to schedule a second meeting in order to accommodate the overwhelming amount of public testimony, Florida’s robust government-in-the sunshine law would have compelled the board to advertise the new meeting 48 hours in advance. By continuing the original meeting overnight, board members avoided the legal requirement.

The highly anticipated decision also came after cyber attacks and software glitches derailed the virtual start to the school year in the fourth largest school district in the country. After thousands of students and teachers were unable to gain access to the district’s online education platform, the school board voted to cut ties with its third-party provider, the for-profit company K12.

Read More: South Miami Senior High Student Arrested In Cyber Attacks Against Miami Schools

The Miami-Dade district won approval of its reopening plan from the Florida Department of Education by committing to open schools on Oct. 5 if local health conditions allowed.

Most of the district’s “gating criteria” have been met; for example, COVID-19 positivity rates are down and local hospital intensive care units are no longer overwhelmed.

It’s unclear if the state will approve the board's push to reopen in mid-October instead. Spokespeople for the department did not immediately return a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the Broward County school board also signaled it would likely approve a mid-October reopening date, despite Superintendent Robert Runcie’s recommendation for students to return between Oct. 5 and 12. The board discussed the plan Tuesday, during an in-person meeting in Fort Lauderdale.

During the meeting, board members floated Oct. 16 as the start date for in-person classes. Spokespeople for the school district said the board will make a final decision during the next school board meeting but did not specify a date. There is a school board workshop scheduled for next Tuesday and a regular meeting planned for Oct. 6.

During a five-minute speech at the start of the meeting, Broward Teachers Union president Anna Fusco implored school board members to wait.

"If the nine of you and Superintendent Runcie are okay with having people die on our watch, on your hands, then you guys stand up there and you vote to open schools when they’re not ready," she said. "So when people start dying, start getting ready for the repercussions."