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School Districts Expect Bumpy Transition To Online Learning — And Warn It Could Last Until Summer

Colleen Wright
Miami Herald
Miami-Dade County Public Schools administrators are working as help desk operators as the district transitions to remote online classes.

The Florida Keys public school district’s website homepage features a video message from the superintendent with the title: “Welcome Back to School.”

But it’s not August, and classrooms will remain empty for the foreseeable future.

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This week, public school students in South Florida are resuming classes after spring break, but they’re not returning to their schools. District leaders are asking teachers and parents to exercise flexibility and compassion for what’s expected to be a bumpy rollout of virtual learning, a new coronavirus-inflicted reality that some superintendents expect will last through the end of the academic year, and possibly into the next.

“All instruction for the remainder of the school year, I believe, … will be delivered online,” Monroe County schools superintendent Mark Porter said in the video. “Right now, we’re only closed officially through April 15, but I do expect we’ll be extending that in the future.”

Broward County Public Schools superintendent Robert Runcie said he’d be surprised if schools reopened before the end of the school year.

“My belief … and intention and plan is that we’re going to go to the end of this school year using this virtual format, and it may even go longer,” Runcie said during a virtual town hall last week. “I am hopeful that by the start of the next school year, … we will get back to some sense of normalcy.”

Hundreds of thousands of students in Broward, Palm Beach and the Florida Keys are beginning their online education journeys this week after an extended spring break. Miami-Dade, though, already has a week of distance learning on the books. The district transitioned immediately after state and local officials announced required closures before also breaking for the previously planned weeklong vacation.

“We are already at work at developing the 2.0 and 3.0 version of distance learning,” Miami-Dade superintendent Alberto Carvalho said during a news conference on March 20, after the district’s first week in the new format.

Regardless of where they are in the process, local school districts have similar plans for how to move forward and are expecting to encounter similar challenges: feeding kids and their families, ensuring students have access to technological devices and internet access, figuring out how to handle taking attendance and assigning grades, and educating children who need the most specialized attention — including those with disabilities and who are learning English.

“When a student logs in, … they are then entering the school building,” said Daniel Gohl, the Broward district’s chief academic officer. “Soon the technology will be in the background, and the learning will return to the forefront.”

Here’s the latest information about virtual learning from each district:


Food: On March 30, parents and students will be able to receive grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. at 31 school locations. Starting March 31, the distribution will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Families will receive meals for the next day. See the list of locations here.

Child care: The district and the YMCA are operating three child care centers for health care workers employed by the Jackson Health System, as well as some employees of the University of Miami Health System. The child care is being offered at three sites near Jackson’s campuses in the north, central and southern parts of the county, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday..

Devices: Miami-Dade has distributed more than 57,000 devices, including laptops, tablets and smartphones with large screens. Parents who still need devices for their children, or who need to exchange damaged devices, may do so from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays at the six high schools listed here.

Internet: Comcast and AT&T are offering free and low-cost internet for people who qualify. Comcast is also making its Xfinity hotspots free for a limited time.

The district has also distributed more than 11,000 Samsung smartphones with wifi hotspot capability and has recently received 1,000 more. High school students are still eligible to receive the smartphones.

Distance learning: It began the week March 16 and resumes March 30, following the district’s previously planned spring break.

Television: WLRN’s television station, channel 17, is broadcasting educational programming from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays. There will be age-appropriate content for pre-kindergartners through third graders from 8 to 10 a.m., for high schoolers from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and for fourth graders through eighth graders from 2 to 6 p.m.

The Miami-Dade County school board owns the broadcast licenses for WLRN’s television and radio stations. It has no editorial influence over WLRN News.

Helpline: District officials will be operating a distance learning helpline in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays at 305-995-HELP. There are other helplines for employees who need assistance and for students who need mental health services; see more information here.

More info: Here.


Food: The Broward district is offering grab-and-go breakfast and lunch from 8 to 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on weekdays at 23 elementary schools, nine middle schools and 15 high schools. See the full list here.

Devices: The district has distributed more than 82,000 devices to students. There is no additional information at this time about future device distributions.

Internet: Comcast and AT&T are offering free and low-cost internet for people who qualify. Comcast is also making its Xfinity hotspots free for a limited time.

Distance learning: It begins March 30.

More info: Here.


Food: The School District of Palm Beach County will provide grab-and-go bags containing breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 35 sites. The locations are listed here.

Boxes of food from Feeding South Florida will be available on a limited basis. See the dates and locations here.

Devices: The district is surveying families about their device needs. Some devices have already been distributed, and more will be available. Families with multiple children will receive only one device, and the students will need to share.

Internet: Comcast and AT&T are offering free and low-cost internet for people who qualify. Comcast is also making its Xfinity hotspots free for a limited time.

Television: The Education Network, which is Comcast channel 234 and AT&T U-verse channel 99, will broadcast educational programming. Here is the schedule.

Distance learning: It begins March 31.

Helpline: The district’s helpline is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays at 561-969-5840. Other important phone numbers are listed here.

More info: Here.


Food: The Monroe County School District is providing grab-and-go meals from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at certain schools, and there will also be meal delivery at some locations. Find more information here.

Devices: Google Chromebooks will be distributed at schools. More details are not immediately available.

Internet: Comcast and AT&T are offering free and low-cost internet for people who qualify. Comcast is also making its Xfinity hotspots free for a limited time.

Distance learning: It begins April 1.

More info: Here.

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
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