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Looking Ahead To Broward County's Virtual School Year

Robert Runcie
Caitie Switalski
Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie, visiting a classroom pre-pandemic.

School is still on track to begin Aug. 19 for students in Broward County. Online, that is.

Broward County Mayor Dale Holness and chair of the school board, Donna Korn, talked more about what that will look like for students, parents and teachers during an online Q&A Wednesday. 

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The online "coffee chat" event to talk about back-to-school plans was hosted by the South Florida Institute on Aging, also known as the SoFIA. Volunteers visit classrooms through the institute's Foster Grandparent program, which has had to transition online since the pandemic began impacting South Florida.

The institute is also collecting and aggregating resources for people to go into a new year of distance learning.

Moderators from the SoFIA asked Korn to elabrate on what parents and students can expect going into the new year: 

"This is going to be a much more structured classroom setting even though it's a virtual setting," Korn said. "There will be a start time to the day in the morning ... they will have regular class schedules ...You will literally be going through your school day but on a virtual platform."

Teachers and parents had the opportunity to ask questions during the Facebook Live, including what cross-county families can expect, where a parent is a teacher in Miami-Dade County, but whose children are students in the Broward County Public School system. 

Korn said there will be some options for parents of elementary students.

"You could start, potentially, in elementary school at 8 a.m. or you may choose the evening option which would be at 2 o'clock. That way, as a parent you have the flexibility to be able to be engaged early with your student ... or if you need to work in the earlier hours, you would start potentially around 2 o'clock," she said. "We're also trying to roll out as much as we can together but we are not, I guess, dictating what our schedule will be around the other counties."  

Broward County Mayor Dale Holness said he's been in talks with Superintendent Robert Runcie, to discuss the possibility of using some federal CARES Act money to get nurses into classrooms, once students can go back in person. 

"On Friday at 1 o'clock I have a mayors call — I do one each week to update the mayors — and I will have a discussion with them to see whether or not some portion of the CARES Act that they will receive can be used to provide the nursing assistants," he said. "We must unite to defeat [coronavirus]. It is the most daunting thing that I've seen in my entire life." 

Broward County recently lifted its nightly curfew that had been in place since last month, when the county saw coronavirus cases spike. This week, the percent of positive cases in the county still hovers between 8.4 and 10.6 percent — according to Broward's dashboard, with data from the Florida Department of Health. 

Students with disabilities in Broward County will return to school online as well, though in an address this week Runcie said the district may start a voluntary pilot program for ESE students to return to in-person instruction no sooner than Aug. 31. 

Read More: Broward Weighs Piloting In-Person Classes For Some Students With Disabilities

The Broward Teacher's Union believes that would still be too soon to make in-person learning safe for vulnerable students.

"August 31st is a very short window ... nobody knows the numbers that are going to be out there," Anna Fusco, BTU president, said in a Zoom news conference Wednesday. 

"We were understanding, kind of, feeling out and getting through the first quarter for everybody [virtually] and looking into what was going to happen possibly in October, so we would like to keep that consistent," she said. "When Mr. Runcie is having these conversations saying 'all' will do e-learning online, we were in the understanding that it would be all."

The Broward County school board will meet on Monday, Aug. 10 to further organize details in the district's reopening plan, which has not been finalized yet. 

Caitie Muñoz, formerly Switalski, leads the WLRN Newsroom as Director of Daily News & Original Live Programming. Previously she reported on news and stories concerning quality of life in Broward County and its municipalities for WLRN News.
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