A letter for Palm Beach County parents and guardians

PALM BEACH COUNTY — The following letter was sent on behalf of Superintendent Dr. Donald Fennoy to parents and staff:

Hello parents, guardians, and team Palm Beach,

I hope this letter finds you, and your family, in good health.

I’m reaching out to update you on the District’s reopening plans for the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Yesterday, the School Board voted to approve the District’s reopening plan, which will begin with a distance learning instructional format. While the Board approved the plan, they were not in agreement with one portion, the currently published student start date of August 10, 2020.

During the next Board meeting, on July 22, board members will discuss date options and the benefits of delaying the start of school. The Board is expected to approve a new student start date during that meeting. Once approved, the District’s reopening plan will be sent to the Florida Department of Education for approval.

Before getting into details of the reopening plan, I’d like to take a moment to say thank you. I am appreciative of everyone who has taken the time to email or call the fistrict, or stepped forward to have their voice heard during our school board meetings. While opinions run the gamut, everyone has one thing in common – they are passionate about our children and the future of education in Palm Beach County.

With ‘back to school’ just weeks away, I empathize with teachers who are anxious and parents, guardians, and students who are frustrated as we all contemplate how to reopen schools smoothly in the midst of a pandemic with steadily increasing rates of infection in Palm Beach County.

I am in agreement with the District’s Health Advisory Committee which emphasizes that reopening plans must be driven by safety and science. Our decisions are also driven by data, research, and community input.

That said, it’s also critical for parents and staff to understand that while the priority is student and staff wellness, the goal is to reopen our campuses as soon as it is safe.

Make no mistake, as an educator and as a parent, I believe to my core that brick and mortar schools are the bedrock of the most effective educational experiences. However, during this pandemic we must commit to pouring all of our resources, and the wealth of our knowledge, into making distance learning a robust alternative until we can safely resume in-person instruction and ensure the welfare of our students and staff in both the short and long term.

While I believe that our educators did a remarkable job with distance learning in the spring, given the very limited notice they received, the disruption caused by closing schools on March 13 has been difficult for all students, especially those children with disabilities, English Language Learners, and students with learning or attention issues.

For all children, the lack of social interaction is isolating, and for many, that challenge is compounded by the heartbreak of losing friends and family members to COVID-19.

As such, let me be clear. The goal is to get students back in school as soon as safely possible. At the conclusion of this letter, you will find a link to the district’s reopening of schools plan. This document was presented to the Board, and it explains how decisions were made and how we will move forward in the best interest of our students and staff. You will learn how the eventual return to campuses will work and the metrics which will be used to decide when that will happen and which students will be invited to return first.

Up until that highly anticipated time when we can open our doors and invite students back to campuses, I give you my word that virtual learning in the fall will be much more robust and efficient than it was in the spring when our District, and districts throughout the country, were unexpectedly thrust into remote instruction.

The Academics Team has taken extraordinary steps to overcome virtual instructional challenges, provide continuity of learning for all students, and develop and implement creative approaches to the remote delivery of education and social emotional services. Equitable access to engaging grade-level content and instructional rigor is a priority for all students.

The reopening of schools plan also addresses the progress that the District is making in achieving a one-to-one ratio of computers for students, and our progress in making free or low cost Wifi much more accessible than it was in the spring.

I know with certainty, that there is no one-size-fits-all plan. I also know with certainty that many parents and guardians will feel defeated or frustrated by the prospect of launching the new school year with Distance Learning.

I implore you to take what I am about to say to heart.

My hope is that despite your concerns, you will encourage your children to make the best out of this situation. You are your child’s first and most influential teacher. If you, intentionally or unintentionally, undermine any instructional method in front of your children, you run the risk of them feeling defeated even before they get started.

We must all empower our children.

I also recognize the frustration and fear that many working parents are experiencing as they wonder how they are going to keep their job if they are needed at home with their young children.

You have heard the expressions “it takes a village” and “we are all in this together.”

In order for distance learning to be as successful as possible, we need buy-in from the entire community.

I am in the process of working with leaders in the business community to encourage companies to be flexible with the employment schedules of working parents. My hope is that they will allow those of you who can work remotely to do so, or that they will provide areas for child care at the office.

We will also work with non-profit organizations which may be able to assist with affordable child care options for school-age children.

On the community level, if you are a stay-at-home parent, I encourage you to consider inviting the child of a working neighbor into your home to take part in distance learning along with your children – of course, while practicing social distancing.

This situation is challenging, but it is not forever. This is a time to open our hearts and come together in support of our entire community, especially our children.

To our parents and guardians who will be home with your children, and helping to ensure that your child is learning, please remember your student’s teacher is only an email or phone call away.

You will have the support of this entire District.

Respectfully,
Dr. Donald E. Fennoy II
Superintendent, Palm Beach County School District

You can view the district’s reopening plan here: https://www.palmbeachschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_270532/File/Students%20&%20Parents/Reopening%20Schools/Reopening%20Plan%20for%20Board%20Presentation.pdf

Get the latest updates on the reopening of schools at PalmBeachSchools.org/reopeningschools.

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