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The South Florida Roundup

South Florida Public Schools Prepare For 100% In-Person Learning This Fall

Carl Juste
Miami Herald

The school districts of Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties have announced that they aim to have all students return to classrooms for the next academic year.

On the South Florida Roundup, education reporters from the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Palm Beach Post and Miami Herald spoke about districts' plans to keep students and faculty safe while the pandemic continues.

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Here is an excerpt of host Tom Hudson’s conversation with Miami Herald education reporter Colleen Wright. It has been edited for clarity.

HUDSON: So what's the plan for the next school year for Miami-Dade County Public Schools?

WRIGHT: The plan for next year is basically Miami-Dade County Public Schools wants 100 percent of students back in schools. They want everyone in person. They reconvened their ad-hoc task force of medical experts and public health experts a few days ago this week. And just to look over existing protocols, they didn't make any concrete changes, but they talked a lot about, for example, seating on busses, whether they can go back to two from one. They've done one per seat the whole time [during the pandemic].

They have also looked at things like spectators at games, quarantine procedures, maybe even shortening them down to instead of 14 days, maybe like 10 days with proof of a negative test. These are some things have just been floating. Again, nothing really changed. So that conversation is going to be ongoing.

What about any vaccine requirements for students or staff who are eligible to receive vaccines?

Dr. Aileen Marty, who's also been advising Miami-Dade County Public Schools — [and] who has been advising Miami-Dade County, City of Miami — she pointed out that these vaccines are on emergency-use authorization and so you legally actually can't have them be required for any legal setting. But she did mention that Pfizer is actually having talks with the Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, on getting full licensure.

The [schools] superintendent, Alberto Carvalho, did say that he does not foresee any change on that front — requiring COVID-19 vaccines — kind of like they require measles or chickenpox vaccines, diseases like that. It doesn't seem like it's going to become a requirement only because of the short time frame either for staff or students. He said he did not foresee that happening and that would have to come from the state as well. That would not be a local decision, it would have to come from the Florida Department of Health.

Speaking of state decisions, we heard later in the week the Department of Education Commissioner, Richard Corcoran, essentially telling school districts that masks for students in classrooms next school year should be voluntary. That's would represent a significant difference compared to mandatory masks this year in classrooms, right?

Yes, the letter that came from Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran kind of was asking school districts — it didn't seem to associate with any penalties or have any repercussions if you don't follow through.

It has some claims about wearing masks. There is no data associated with these claims. He does make the claim that schools have been the safest places in the community, that actually might be true, but maybe because masks and social distancing protocols, all these procedures have been put in place.

So [Ed. Commissioner Corcoran’s letter] is voluntary. Miami-Dade County Public Schools does have a mandatory mask policy for everyone, staff, students, everybody who goes in person. Unclear right now if they will actually make it voluntary. Not clear.

And we also have a few months out before the start of the '21-'22 school year, which is when this ask kind of goes into effect.

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Andrea Perdomo is a producer for WLRN News.