A group of Broward County parents held a demonstration at the KC Wright Administration building in Fort Lauderdale Tuesday morning. They want the school board to give families the option of sending their children back to school with full-time in-person instruction.
Broward Parents for the Return to School, a local Facebook group, organized the protest. Parents created the group when they felt the school board wasn't considering full-time classes. The group now has over 4,000 members.
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Adam Herman is one of the organizers and a father of three girls. The group has received some backlash online for not considering teachers’ health, so Herman wants people to understand their intentions.
“We’re not advocating that it be the only option. We want it just to be an option,” Herman said. “There are parents, teachers, administrators that need to make personal decisions about what’s best for their lives and their health and the well-being of their family, and we want them to have that choice.”
Many of the group members are concerned about finding childcare if the school board doesn’t allow five days of face-to-face teaching. They don’t view school as a daycare, but most say it helps them manage their time at work.
Anthony and Jennifer Adelson have three children. Anthony is an attorney, and Jennifer is a dentist. Both parents have their own private practices, and Anthony says they work more than 40 hours a week.
"We don’t have anybody helping us,” Anthony said. “We take care of our kids ourselves, and we juggle our time with them between our practices and their schedules. If their schedule is to be home all the time, it’s a huge issue for us.”
Frankie Maxwell is a mom of two children, and she attended Tuesday’s protest. Like many parents, she struggled to balance her full-time work weeks with teaching her kids at home once schools closed in April.
“I had a third-grader who could not do the virtual platform with zero instruction from her teacher, and I had a preschooler who was running out the front door every time I was on a conference call for my job,” Maxwell said. “We cannot be at work and we cannot also be at home educating our kids.”
One of the group’s setbacks is the fact that Florida is seeing a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases. However, many of the protesters were quick to point out the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) recent planning considerations for returning to school.
The AAP says that children are less likely to contract and spread the virus. They want schools to mitigate their response to COVID-19 without eliminating the option of full-time learning on campuses.
The AAP also mentions that any reopening plans should start with trying to have students physically in classrooms despite the ongoing pandemic. They argue that students must develop their social skills by interacting with others face-to-face. Social isolation could hinder the school’s ability to address learning deficits, physical and sexual abuse, mental illness, and substance use.
Herman says his daughters were depressed and frustrated when they had to finish the school year away from their teachers and friends. He also stated that remote learning negatively impacted the quality of their education.
“If those issues are affecting them mentally, and the risks are much higher to their health than the physical risk that are presented by COVID at the moment, we want our children to continue their education in school. It’s important on many levels,” Herman said.
The school board issued a second questionnaire on Sunday with the following options: eLearning 100% of the time, hybrid learning (part-time in-person instruction and part-time remote eLearning), face-to-face learning 100% of the time, or Broward Virtual School.
The face-to-face choice shows a disclaimer stating that this form of instruction “may limit the District’s ability to maintain CDC guidance regarding physical distancing.”
"This is an opportunity for parents to provide input which is a major consideration as we work to create a variety of opportunities for our students to interact and engage in more traditional educational settings," Superintendent Robert Runcie said. "And [we've] got to do that while also being smart and knowledgable about how we follow guidelines from the CDC and our local health department officials."
The school board didn’t settle on reopening decisions during their virtual meeting, but they will continue hosting workshops to discuss the plans. They plan to announce reopening decisions sometime at the end of July or in early August. The first day of school is still set for Aug. 19.